Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis is quite a trip. Initially, I gave it four stars, as I often do for an anthology -- every story doesn't workCthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis is quite a trip. Initially, I gave it four stars, as I often do for an anthology -- every story doesn't work for everyone, you know. But after some thought, I'm bumping it up to five because, thematically, it's something new (at least to me) in Mythos literature.
Madness, madness, madness. We all know the Old Ones bring madness to mankind. Happens all the time. But here's a twist: the motif of Cthulhusattva is pushing through that soul-shattering chaos to enlightenment on the other side. As Jones says in his preface,"When all is madness, there is no madness." A Tao of Cosmic Horror. What a fascinating way to break fresh ground!
Highlights for me included Gord Sellar's "Heiros Gamos," in which a self-taught acolyte experiences the ancient, cthonic Eleusinian Mysteries firsthand; "We Three Kings," Don Raymond's eerie revision of the Nativity story; and Rhoads Brazos' urban noir, "Feeding the Abyss," in which we meet the contractors who specialize in keeping the gods fed. Brazos' story also boasts one of my favorite sentences in the whole collection: "In a world of limitations, only a fool would hesitate to touch the infinite."
But the heart, and possibly also the point, of the collection is Ruthanna Emrys' "The Litany of Earth." Here we meet Aphra Marsh (of those Marshes), a mild, devout "Aeonist" in a world where they are a persecuted minority. Emrys turns our expectations of the Mythos gods inside-out (and lays in some fair social commentary in the process):
"Most religions consist largely of good people trying to get by. No matter what names they worship, or what church they go to, or what language they pray in . . . [a]nd every religion has its fanatics, who are willing to do terrible things in the name of their god. No one is immune . . . [i]t's a failing of humanity, not of any particular sect."
What if all those gibbering cultists we've grown so used to are the Aeonist equivalent of suicide bombers and snake-handlers? What if there's really another way?
Weird is generally a compliment in my universe, and reading When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R'lyehian Spirituality is definitely a unique experience. It's a quasi-Jungian exercise in the power of symbolism. It's a beautiful, poetic self-help book. It's funnier than you'd think. It's a philosophy, or at least the groundwork for one. It's cuttingly insightful about the human condition (such as it is), and cleverly models the human need for something to believe in . . . even if it's Nothing.
I recently gave five stars to the Jones-edited Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis, and one of the qualities that really dazzled me was its thematic freshness. Now I see where it was born. This psycho-symbolic analysis of the Mythos pantheon is utterly strange and fascinating. And maybe helpful.
I've studied a lot of comparative mythology and different belief systems, and the result is my default worldview is set to "Jungian." In When the Stars Are Right Jones guides readers through a philosophy where the Great Old Ones fit snugly into various archetypal slots, and that arrangement makes sense because it already exists everywhere people tell stories. A little ironically, it also remakes the Old Ones' innate otherness into patterns our tiny minds can work with: Nyarlathotep the Messenger, Cthulhu the Dreamer, Shub-Niggurath the fecund Mother, Yog-Sothoth the Demiurge, and so on. While Cthulhu is obviously the star in a R'lyehian cosmos, I'd also praise Jones' interpretation of Nyarlathotp, which adds a jolting modern iteration to the Crawling Chaos.
Central to his cosmos, Jones places an often-occulted aspect of Lovecraft's most well known creation. Here we meet Cthulhu, not as the obliterating apocalyptic madness rising from the deep familiar from Lovecraft's purple prose and terrified Miskatonic academics, and not as that tentacled hat you bought on Etsy last winter, either.* Instead envision a serene Cthulhusattva, dead but dreaming, drowned deep in the heart of R'yleh. Those dreams he shares with us as a wellspring of the Black Gnosis, the heart (or Void) of Jones' spiritual practice. "When all is madness, there is no madness."
Seriously, I don't know what more to say. I like it, even if I don't quite buy it. (view spoiler)[ To be honest, I laughed aloud with relief and postmodern complicity when Jones admits in his afterword that he did start out satirically, but found the book morphing into more than just that. I get that: just because something is a little bizzaro doesn't mean it has nothing to say. (hide spoiler)] But me, I don't entirely buy anything. When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R'lyehian Spirituality is, however, an excellent meditative exercise for those curious Mythos-minded among us.
* Since to all other evidence he has a working sense of humor, I was surprised that Jones rails rather harshly at Cthulhu's status as a pop-culture icon. My first stuffed Cthulhu was hand-made, and came from a tiny, eldritch ad in the back of Rolling Stone. That was a long time ago, and I have acquired a metric fuckton more icons since - cute, sad, ugly, furry, plastic, resin, unsettling - one even starred in a silly photo project of mine. That in no way detracts, for me, from the essential literary or psychological power of the symbol, in all His forms.
This is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am baThis is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am basically a devout agnostic, because it's as arrogant to assume you know there's nothing as it is to assume you know there's something. So why do these tales fascinate me? In the case of The Book of Strange New Things, maybe it's because Faber's story gives the reader access to the mind of a true believer -- not a blathering fundamentalist, mind you, just a decent man who has found real joy in religion after an early life of excess. Sometimes I envy the ease and succor genuine faith seems to give . . . but Faber deftly shows how that comfort and safety can sometimes be woefully misleading.
When Peter, a minister happily married to Bea, the woman who "saved" him, agrees to take on the open-ended position of chaplain for a corporation settlement and the nearby indigenous beings on the distant planet Oasis, he and his wife are both thrilled and terrified: thrilled he will be spreading God's word to new worlds, terrified of the months-long separation ahead. Arriving on Oasis, Peter is astonished and excited by the devout nature of the local, "alien," populace. Already prepared by the previous chaplain (now AWOL), many have rechristened themselves "Jesus Lover," followed by a number. (For example Peter's first interaction is with Jesus Lover One. Jesus Lover Five becomes a good friend. Etc.) So ecstatic are these "Oasans" to learn more of what they call "The Book of Strange New Things," they welcome him warmly and begin building him a church, which Peter makes his home between short visits to the base. He feels blessed to be granted such a perfect opportunity to do God's work. He's also more comfortable with the small, peaceful locals than most of the cynical humans back at base.
But there are deeper issues hiding under his blithe good works. Does Peter's new flock truly understand the teachings of Christ? How can he know what they make of his sermons, try as he does to make the metaphors clear for them? And will his email-only relationship with Bea, who is unexpectedly pregnant and sending alarming news of chaos on planet Earth daily, survive this mission? Less gut-punchingly painful than The Sparrow, another good-intentions-gone-wrong tale you should read if you haven't, The Book of Strange New Things is most concerned with the things we take for granted, and the small misunderstandings in communication that can easily grow into gulfs.
I hope I haven't given the impression this book is a downer -- it's really not. The indigenous culture Faber imagines is genuinely compelling and wonderful, as is his depiction of a faith not imperious or crazed, but warm and accepting. Not exactly action-packed, but truly thoughtful speculative fiction.
I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest,I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest, if a little duplicitous, academic causing a history-exploding breach in the world's major (and most troublesome) faiths is awesome. "The Fifth Gospel," the newly-discovered and translated Aramaic book-within-the-book that starts all the hubbub is both funny and humane. The satiric skewering of fanatics (of both the religious and Dan-Brown-loving variety) is snort-aloud funny.
But then, it kind of just . . . ended. The story was complete, I suppose, but the denouement came all in a rush and I was like "wait, that's it?" Maybe I wanted it to be longer because I was enjoying beleaguered (and bewildered) Aramaic scholar Theo's nutty adventures in publishing enormously. But it felt more novella than novel, and I felt a bit cheated of potential deeper content. Leave 'em wanting more doesn't always leave 'em entirely pleased....more
I need to put some thought into this review, but I will say that Revival sees King treading interesting ground. It's a novel that manages to horrify oI need to put some thought into this review, but I will say that Revival sees King treading interesting ground. It's a novel that manages to horrify on a number of psychological levels without much in the way of classic supernatural horror. I really, really enjoyed this novel....more
If you are familiar with Chris Adrian's work, you will already know that it's beautiful, unsettling, and pretty much impossible to categorize. Is it mIf you are familiar with Chris Adrian's work, you will already know that it's beautiful, unsettling, and pretty much impossible to categorize. Is it magical realism? Literary fantasy? Modern fable? Certainly the recondite and sensitive subjects of illness, faith, and apocalypse are never far from the surface in his tales; sometimes bringing tragedy and other times visionary ecstasy.
The tales in A Better Angel nearly all feature children or teens, most carrying some kind of "mark" which separates them from their peers: a young boy becomes dissociative (or perhaps he's possessed?) after his mother's death; another mourns his dead twin in a peculiar way; and a 19th century farm boy has debilitating visions of angels and burning towers. There are also some funnier moments: In "Why, Antichrist?" a teenage boy grudgingly comes to accept that he is, in fact, the Antichrist; a sassy young woman with "short gut" delivers reports on life and death from the pediatric ICU; and in the hilarious title story, a man recalls his experiences growing up with an overly-critical guardian angel.
September 11th also hangs heavy over this 2008 collection, with the burning towers haunting it in both concrete and symbolic ways. Adrian's characters grieve loved ones lost that day, speak for its dead, and obsessively watch the unreal video footage of fiery blooms and people falling from the skies. It could be grisly, in lesser hands. Instead, Adrian is concerned with something infinitely more interesting than mere shock value. He's examining how we, as a culture and as individuals, cope with the paralyzing specters of illness and death, how faith might work for (or against) us, and how we begin to heal from tragedies both personal and universal.
I might knock off half a star just because, thematically, A Better Angel often covers very similar ground to Adrian's 2006 novel The Children's Hospital. It could easily feel repetitive, but Adrian's ability to bring the surreal into tales of daily life, with wit and honesty and crystalline prose, really blossoms in the short form. A truly weird and gorgeous book....more
I'm not usually a reader of "self-help" books, and I'm not going to damn this charming book with the epithet, though it is quite helpful. In a seriesI'm not usually a reader of "self-help" books, and I'm not going to damn this charming book with the epithet, though it is quite helpful. In a series of cleverly focused, easy-to-digest chapters, Parkin brings perhaps the key element of Eastern philosophy -- the concept of letting go in order to find freedom -- to a busy Western audience that just doesn't know how. And by reclaiming the titular phrase as a joyous affirmation in service of shucking off the psychological and societal pressures that make us stressed, anxious, and generally miserable, F**k It -- instead of being simply silly or faux-shocking -- is funny, realistic and enlightened.
Open this book to any page on a day you're feeling ready to explode (or implode), and I guarantee you'll feel better. Possibly even giggle. I suggest keeping a copy close at hand....more