Manny's Reviews > Arachne Rising: The Thirteenth Sign Of The Zodiac

Arachne Rising by James Vogh
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really liked it
bookshelves: linguistics-and-philosophy, well-i-think-its-funny

This almost unknown book, written by the late John Sladek under a pseudonym, is very good, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who is genuinely interested in how science works. Not because it's suddenly convinced me that there's a thirteenth sign of the Zodiac, called Arachne, the Spider, and that people born under it are psychic - I still have serious doubts about that. What's impressive is that it shows you how easy it is to be fooled by well-presented lies. Of course, the idea is preposterous; if you're in any doubt, he explicitly winks at you a few times. I particularly liked the ancient Babylonian calculations of the length of the nodical month (I'd never heard of it before either), which agree with modern values to within a tenth of a second. All due to that famous astronomer, Kidinnu.

But, despite everything, in the face of solemnly presented charts, statistics, anecdotes, historical arguments etc, I discover every now and then, to my horror, that I'm starting to wonder whether there might not be something to it. He's done a good job. So imagine what it's like when you don't know in advance that what you're reading is nonsense. I will be much more careful next time I review a scientific paper, and do my best to maintain a properly skeptical attitude. It's not enough just to note that what I'm reading sounds plausible. Kick it around. Does it actually make sense? I realize I don't think that way often enough. The book is a fine wake-up call.

I'm not sure I can present a decent summary of the argument, which is wonderfully bizarre and has a certain poetic force to it. The ingredients contain at least the following: there is an opposition between the forces of reason, identified with the Sun and Yang, and the forces of mysticism, identified with the Moon and Yin; the Zodiac we know is the "Solar Zodiac"; a lunar month contains 28 days, hence we have 13 lunar months in a year; the Solar Zodiac has 12 signs, but the Lunar Zodiac needs an extra sign; the ancient Druidic religion, forced underground by Christianity, used the Lunar calendar; 28 is a perfect number, and perfect numbers have mystical properties; there are connections between the Moon, Crete, the Minotaur (= geMINI + TAURus, you see), Ariadne, Arachne, spiders, labyrinths and threads; the missing sign of Arachne, the Spider, must be between Taurus and Gemini, to be exact between May 16 and June 13; psychic people are born disproportionally often during that period; and they consist of exactly 5% of the population, a number which he obtains to two decimal places (!) though some delightfully bogus astrological/genetic calculations. Sladek was an imaginative guy.

Oh, and while searching for a picture of the cover I learned that it has been translated into Japanese. How about that?

Damn! Sladek got me! Four years after posting this review, I discover in Neugerbauer's The Exact Sciences in Antiquity that there really WAS a famous Babylonian astronomer called Kidinnu!

How many more Easter eggs are there in his book?
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Reading Progress

May 7, 2009 – Shelved
May 16, 2009 –
page 31
May 18, 2009 –
page 45
22.28% "GeMINi + TAURus = MIN(O)TAUR. Of course! How did I miss that? It all links to Ariadne/Arachne..."
May 18, 2009 –
page 72
35.64% "Perfect numbers. They're... perfect! And they contains 13's, 7's, and 28's. It can't be a coincidence. I wish I'd written this."
May 18, 2009 –
page 102
50.5% "The Moon. Ariadne. Arachne. Spiders. And Odin's horse, Sleipnir, has eight legs! How could all that be a coincidence?"
Started Reading
May 19, 2009 –
page 120
59.41% "So if you're born between May 16 and June 13 you're really an Arachne, hence probably have psychic powers. Hey, that's me! I love this book."
May 19, 2009 –
page 148
73.27% "If you were impressed by people with Sun in Arachne, then look at the ones who have the Moon there. It all makes sense!"
May 19, 2009 – Shelved as: linguistics-and-philosophy
May 19, 2009 – Shelved as: well-i-think-its-funny
May 19, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert "...famous astonomer, Kidinnu"! I'm beginning to think I've missed out by not having read Sladek.

Manny Sladek is so underrated it's not true! I think Roderick and The Steam-Driven Boy are his best ones, but everything he wrote is funny.

message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert Yeah, I've heard all these titles but never read any of them. :-(

Manny Start with The Steam-Driven Boy, and read the parodies first. They are masterpieces. I'm surprised he didn't get sued.

Manny Yukie wrote: "What a japanese title!
it says "RARE horoscope 13 zodiac" :)"

Does that make sense!!? I mean, the book doesn't, really, but at first sight it appears to...

message 6: by Jen (new)

Jen Are you saying that there aren't 13 signs? I was taught that at school.

message 7: by Manny (last edited May 19, 2009 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Jen wrote: "Are you saying that there aren't 13 signs? I was taught that at school."

I tell you, I've learned two important things from this book: a) I'm even more ignorant about astrology than I thought, b) I'll believe anything!

message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen I just looked the 13th thing up and it looks tricky and confusing, to be sure. It also pushes my previously understood sign, Scorpio, around enough that by their data I am a Libra. Good thing I don't put too much stock in that type of thing.

Manny I turn out to be an Arachne, so I must admit I like it. Though I am doing my best to take it as seriously as the author intended me to :)

message 10: by Jen (new)


The pic on the Japanese cover looks kinda like Yanni.
Weirder and weirder.

message 11: by R. (new)

R. Arachne here, too.

Manny You're also an Arachne? I knew we had something in common!

message 13: by Lori (new)

Lori I wanna be Arachne toooooooo, how do I find out if I am? *whines*

Manny Lori wrote: "I wanna be Arachne toooooooo, how do I find out if I am? *whines*"

If you're born between May 16 and June 13, as I am, you have the Sun in Arachne. It's even better to have the Moon in Arachne, or to have Arachne Rising. There are various bonus possibilities in having various planets in Arachne, with Uranus being particularly good.

The book contains an appendix with tables and detailed instructions for converting a conventional Solar Zodiac horoscope into a Psychic/Lunar Zodiac horoscope. It's truly a masterpiece. He must have spent a lot of time on this.

message 15: by R. (new)

R. We're both Arachnes and we appreciate Sladek. Perhaps there is a connection between the two. If only we knew whether, say, The Once and Present Artist Known as Prince had read Tik-Tok and LOL'd.

message 16: by Chris Van Dyke (new)

Chris Van Dyke Manny, shouldn't you have KNOWN R was an Arachne, since Arachne's are psychic? Aren't you born with four mystical limbs of Slepnr so that the Odin-Spirit can ride your soul steed?

And you weren't kidding about it being an obscure book -- I did a google search for "Arachne Rising" and your goodreads review was the third result.

Manny Well, I guess I did know, but I'm still in the process of learning to accept my powers. As Sladek points out, psychic people often start by trying to reject them. And Slepnr/Sleipnir is a tricky beast. I started by offering him a sugar lump - bad mistake. Don't do that. We're getting on better now.

Manny And yes, the world is crying out for a study which proves that an inexplicably high proportion of the people who appreciate John Sladek are Arachnes and/or psychic.

Now I think about it. Why is Sladek so appallingly underrated? Answer: only 5% of the population can appreciate him properly. Of course. It all makes sense. Or, possibly (this is a more daring theory), the number of people in the world who read Sladek regularly has to be a perfect number. I'm guessing that we're stuck on 8,128. But, with the right incantation, perhaps also using a combination of spider-webs and burning hawthorn, we could make a quantum jump to 33,550,336, and he'd suddenly achieve the fame which should have been his all along.

This is an inspirational book!

message 19: by Chris Van Dyke (new)

Chris Van Dyke I really need to get a copy of this -- my aunt is huge into New Age, and actually took part in the harmonic convergence gathering for the realignment of the stars in Sedona back in '87. She gave my mom this great book called "11:11 The Star Children," which is way crazier than Toklien -- all about gnomes living in Mt. Shasta and tending the spirit eggs that link our souls to the realm of dragons and giants. I've always wanted to camp out for a summer in Sedona and write "Voices from The Vortex," recounting my "conversations" with the spirit guardians who are ushering us through the soul gate into our higher incarnation. It takes a little while to get the lingo and style down, but once you do the writing is practically auto-pilot.

Manny I just looked - there are plenty of copies available on

message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Being crazier than Tolkien is surely not difficult?

message 22: by Lori (new)

Lori Damn, my library doesn't have a copy. Since I'm a late July girl, sadly I'm not an Arachne. But there's hope! Perhaps my moon or rising sigh is.

Manny Lori wrote: "Damn, my library doesn't have a copy. Since I'm a late July girl, sadly I'm not an Arachne. But there's hope! Perhaps my moon or rising sigh is. "

Lori, don't give up hope! There are nine planets too. I KNOW you've got something in Arachne. Why else would you be interested in Sladek? I can almost see it. It's... oh, so frustrating, still not used to these new powers...

message 24: by Chris Van Dyke (new)

Chris Van Dyke Robert wrote: "Being crazier than Tolkien is surely not difficult?"
Ah, but Tolkien never claimed to be writing NONFICTION we he talked about the fall of Numenor and wrote about Melkor and Morgoth. This lady talked about witnessing gnome initiations in person without cracking a smile . . .

message 25: by Robert (new)

Robert This is my point - I'M crazier than Tolkien, so are many people of my acquaintance - being crazier than Tolkien is easy.

Manny A friend, who knows far more about astrology than I do (not difficult), tells me that today is "MINoTAUR day": when the sun goes from Taurus into Gemini. At least, according to the conventional Solar Zodiac. Really, it went into Arachne last Sunday...

message 27: by Jen (new)

Jen Happy generalized birthday, Manny.

Manny Thank you Jen! I have been opening generalized presents all day...

message 29: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie You crack me up!

Your "fellow" Arachne,
B. :)

Manny Bonnie, we Arachnes have to stick together. Not enough of us. I hope some kind person will be able to give you a copy of the book for your, and indeed our, upcoming birthday!

message 31: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I'm with you on that! :)

message 32: by Karl-O (new)

Karl-O Have you heard about Richard Tarnas? I'm reading his book The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View where (apart from outlining the history of western thought) he makes the case for astrology somewhat sideways. When you see how well he understands the scientific method, rationalism and empiricism, you wonder whether there isn't something to it, you know.

message 33: by Fayley (new)

Fayley A whole bogus argument to point out that scientifically presented lies can be convincing and seem legitimate? We need to make this required reading for every journalist!

Manny I suppose it's possible that they know enough about that already. But it would be a smart journalist who didn't pick up a few new tricks here...

Manny Carlo wrote: "Have you heard about Richard Tarnas? I'm reading his book The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View where (apart from outlining the history of western..."

I used to work with a very smart guy who spent a lot of time researching astrology. He said there were correlations between star-sign and profession that were hard to explain, but I was never convinced.

message 36: by Robert (new)

Robert There are correlations between star sign and academic performance in school...but they are easy to explain.

Manny Yes, your age when you start school clearly makes a difference, and it correlates with star sign.

But does it work equally well for both hemispheres? That's the critical question...

message 38: by Cecily (last edited Jun 14, 2013 03:12PM) (new)

Cecily Manny wrote: "...If you're born between May 16 and June 13, as I am..."

Odds are I've just missed it by at least a day, but Happy Birthday, Manny.

The only problem with the book is, if it is as convincing as you say, maybe some people really DO believe it all!

message 39: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Jen wrote: "Are you saying that there aren't 13 signs? I was taught that at school."

Astrology was taught at your school?! What sort of school was it?

message 40: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Manny wrote: "Yes, your age when you start school clearly makes a difference, and it correlates with star sign.

But does it work equally well for both hemispheres? That's the critical question.."

I'm sure I've read reports that whereas summer born children tend to achieve lower grades on leaving schools in the UK, it's winter borns down under. Mind you, the waters may be muddied, because some areas are more flexible about school starting ages and when children move up.

message 41: by Miriam (new)

Miriam At least in the US the birthdates for school starting vary by state, but yes, my understanding is that kids who are a bit older when they enter do better.

Is Arachne related Ophiuchus in any way, or is this an instance of parallel evolution of ideas?

message 42: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel My anecdotal experience is that it's often a U-curve. Children who are older (hence usually bigger, more mature, and naturally looked up to (literally) by their classmates) do well because they're confident, and they don't feel the need to mess around to get attention as much. But children who are the youngest in the class are more often picked on and excluded - hence they're more likely to become geeks, and hence to succeed. Almost all my friends at school were born May-to-August, and we did very well academically.

I've not seen stats for the population as a whole, but I'd expect you'd see better outcomes generally for the oldest children in the class... but more extreme outcomes, including both very good and very bad outcomes, for the youngest children in the class. The ones in the middle are probably on average least likely to succeed, because they're neither in a position to lead nor in a position where they're pushed.

But really you'd need much better stats than just averages to come to meaningful conclusions - you'd need distributions and subpopulations and whatnot.
[After all, just for sake of argument, it's possible that on average older kids have better academic performance, AND that kids with better academic performance are on average younger...]

message 43: by Cecily (last edited Dec 07, 2014 07:45AM) (new)

Cecily Wastrel wrote: "children who are the youngest in the class are more often picked on and excluded - hence they're more likely to become geeks, and hence to succeed."

I don't think you become a geek because you're picked on!
And unfortunately, I don't think being a geek is a guarantee of success.

I think a large part of geekiness is in the genes (especially for those on the autistic spectrum), and as that difference becomes evident to classmates, the geek is likely to be picked on. After that, it tends to go one of three ways:
1. The geek finds the confidence (especially if they have like-minded friends) to stay geeky and to excel.
2. The geek dumbs down to avoid being noticed. They become docile and lower their performance to something more average. They may to well enough, but nowhere near as well as they are capable of doing.
3. The geek reacts with a mix of anger, argument, aggression. They may then get into serious trouble with the school, and that can lead to academic failure.

message 44: by Ted (new)

Ted An Easter Egg of a review, Manny.

message 45: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel I think you must be using the word differently from me.

I don't think cultural identities can be carried genetically. There are probably genetic factors involved at some level - aggressive people with sky-high testosterone are probably much less likely to become geeks, just as they were probably less likely to become hippies in prior generations. But more important I would think would be childhood experiences, both inside and outside the home. To me, 'geeks are genetically geeks'' feels kind of like 'french-speakers are genetically french-speakers (look, their parents often speak french too!)'. Would you apply the same genetic assumption to other subcultures - goths, emos, hipsters, whateverelsetheyhavethesedays?

To be honest, none of your three reactions are anything I can recognise from my own experiences. Regarding the second and third examples: those people aren't, in my use of the word, geeks at all. You seem to be using 'geek' as an essentialist label - something that you just ARE and that you can't stop being no matter what you do, a sort of blood-stain on the soul. But if someone is 'average' and 'avoids being noticed' and looks just the same as anyone else, they're not a geek - just as if someone grows up speaking french but then switches to english to blend in and forgets all their french, they are no longer french-speakers. They're not french-speakers who are just 'passing', they've become english-speakers.

I've not been away of these 'dumbed down' (seems an offensive way to talk about non-geeks!) geeks, in any case. Are you using 'geek' to just mean 'smart person'? Because I've known very smart people who were mainstream, but they hadn't 'dumbed down'. And I've known smart people who were aggressive and rebellious... but they didn't see themselves as geeks, nor would we have seen them as geeks (although our two groups did get along better with each other than with a lot of of the other kids at school).

I think you get smart and less smart people in every subculture, although the average may be higher for geeks (both because they're more likely to become geeks and because the geek subculture is more pro-intellectual than most). Likewise with special, 'geeky' interests, people have them in every subculture.

Regarding your first response: yes, those people would be geeks, but I never actually met any at school. None of us were 'confident' in our geekiness (I think hardly anyone I knew at school was confident, regardless of their allegiances, and I don't think it's much better in adulthood...). It was more a combination of fear and stubbornness than kept us geeky.

I think geekdom, in my experience, was almost entirely defined by social opposition. People wanted us to conform in certain social ways, as is true for everyone, but different people respond differently to that. Some conform willingly, and some unwillingly. Some refuse to conform and instead act out. Some try so hard to conform that their mania with conforming is itself obviously deviant and provokes further opprobrium. The geeks are the ones that respond with passive rejection: neither working hard enough to conform nor with the confidence and/or anger to respond aggressively. In the case of my own experience, we responded by largely ignoring everybody else. But that wasn't confidence - we were, after all, hiding away from everybody else for the most part. Sure, we were more confident than the really annoying guys who kept trying to fit in with everyone, who were as a result picked on more than anyone (including by us, when they bothered us). We'd had the confidence, after all, to essentially say "well sod you then" - but that didn't mean we weren't worried about saying that (/bitter/resentful/ashamed/etc).

Learning to fit in, after all, is possible - most people do it eventually. Even some people with clinical Aspergers (rather than internet-aspergers) are able to learn to fit in more or less, with enough effort, eventually. And it's not as though it's easy for anyone - the reason teenagers become so weird and seemingly incapable is that they put intense effort into fitting in (and more than 'fitting in', it's not an in-out thing (everyone trapped at a school is compelled to be 'in' the social group) but a matter of fighting for status and desirable roles), and the reason they have such high levels of depression and anxiety is that they're worried they're not succeeding. [Ok, there are other reason, but that's probably the biggest.] But geeks don't put in that effort (which ok, may be more of an effort for a few of them, but most of us are reasonably normal people genetically), and as a result they end up near the bottom of the totem pole, above only the ones who put in lots of effort but still get it all wrong.

Certainly, my own geekdom I know is to a large extent a matter of external pressures. I happen to have had my growth spurts younger than average, so know the difference that that makes: when I was the biggest person in my year in primary school (and bright, and confident in certain ways), I was not only socially 'accepted' but held a leadership role; when through a vagary of my school's system I ended up in a class with people who were bigger and older than me, I ended up near the bottom of the ladder again. And then I said 'well sod you then' defiantly, and gave up even trying to know about football and pop music and whatever, and became more ostentatious about what I liked instead (not because I was 'confident' but because I was defiant and arrogant). When I was the biggest guy in secondary school again, I was suddenly reasonably liked and accepted again - if I'd put in the slightest bit of effort I'd have been one of the alphas again, but even with me ostentatiously playing up my differences from them they still wanted to like me. Then I stopped being the tallest guy around anymore, and my position plummeted again...

Contrariwise, a couple of the smartest guys in my year were also the most popular. And one of them was pretty geeky in his interests too, if you asked him about them. But he didn't feel a need to flaunt that, and nobody made fun of him for it... because these guys were also the biggest and most athletic guys in our year. So a) they could beat people up if they didn't like them, and b) they were friends with all the other rugby-playing boys who could beat people up if they didn't like them. Therefore they were normal and popular... but if they'd been small or asthmatic, I'd bet the same kids would have ended up with us.

Anyway, returning to the topic: in my experience, the geeks (i.e. me and my friends) were generally among the youngest in the year - the ones who were most likely to get picked on, and therefore the most likely to say 'well sod you then' and concentrate on their own interests.

[My experience makes the social basis more clear, because I went to a grammar school. Thus, although we certainly had a few halfwits among us, as a general rule most people in our school had similar sociocultural backgrounds and we were all academically capable. The objective 'differences' between us were therefore much smaller than in many schools (or even than in my primary school)... yet the same subcultural groups emerged nonetheless (though perhaps with more fudgeable boundaries than in some schools - our identities weren't entirely set in stone (we didn't use overt labels for the groups, for instance, though we all knew who was in which group, or who straddled which two groups)]

...anyway, this is all at a bit of a tangent from the star-spider thing, sorry Manny...

message 46: by Cecily (last edited Dec 07, 2014 09:34AM) (new)

Cecily Wastrel wrote: "I think you must be using the word differently from me..."

Hmmm. Curious. You're in England too, and you also went to an academically selective school, so we can't dismiss it as a trans-Atlantic difference or even a difference of educational experience.

I agree that cultural identities are not genetic (e.g. Goth, hippie, hipster), but in my experience, geekiness is not the same sort of thing; specifically, it's not a choice in the same way: there is a stronger, deeper and multi-faceted aspect of personality, some of which may have a genetic component.

Not all clever people are geeks, but I think geeks invariably have intellectual domains where their potential is significantly above the norm. But there are also personality and behavioural aspects that mark them out from clever non-geeks.

My three outcomes were not intended as definitive, but they are three common outcomes in my, albeit limited, experience (as teacher (briefly), and for 20 years, mother of one uber-geek, colleague of many geeks, and wife of another geek).

I certainly don't think of geek as a "blood-stain on the soul" (wow!). My comment about being "average" was not that they really are, but that some try to hide their talent to avoid being picked on, or just to avoid standing out as different. There is a lot of literature on gifted children who perform around or below the average in academic tests, and the problems that can arise from that, both for the individuals concerned, and society as a whole.

Finally, what is the difference between clinical Aspergers and internet-Aspergers? Do you just mean self-diagnosed, in the latter case?

As for being a bit of a tangent from the star-spider thing, I doubt Manny minds: his reviews often trigger lively discussions that go in slightly unexpected directions, and the subject of geeks is one he has some familiarity with.

message 47: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel By "internet-Aspergers", I was referring to the way a lot of people claim to have Aspergers on the internet. Partly that's self-diagnosis, partly it's using the words loosely, and partly it's also probably America, where traditionall autistic spectrum disorders were massively more diagnosed than in the UK. In my experience the average "guy who says he has aspergers on the internet" usually translates to "a bit geeky". Whereas I've talked to some people with 'genuine' Aspergers, clinically diagnosed in this country, where the condition is crippling and fundamentally alters their lives.

That's not necessarily to say that the latter is the only really genuine form, but rather that there's an important difference between the two.

I think 'aspergers', or now 'the spectrum' is a convenient rhetorical move from geeks, the equivalent of 'homosexuality is innate' - defending themselves from persecution with the defence that they can't help the way they are, they were just born like that. [In both cases, regardless of the scientific truth of the claim I think it's a bad rhetorical strategy]

I don't really see this connection you draw between "geek" and "talented"/"gifted". Like I say, there are plenty of smart non-geeks. There are also in my experience some really, really, stunningly stupid geeks. I'm also not sure I like the rhetoric of "potential above the norm". In my experience, the more you talk to a person the more you find their potential is the same as yours. Most of what people consider 'talent' or 'giftedness' is just a matter of certain habits and certain hobbies, rather than others.

But again I think the core is that I don't see "geek" as a label of an essence - if someone doesn't act like a geek, they're not a geek, because being a geek is about what you do rather than 'who you are'. [And some of my geek and ex-geek friends are indeed reminiscent of aspergers characteristics... but others aren't at all, personality-wise. One of my best friends is charming and extroverted and not very intellectual. Yet anyone who talks to him for a while will come away thinking he's a total geek - his interests, hobbies, are geek interests and hobbies, a lot of his cultural touchstones are the cultural touchstones of geek subcultures, and most of his friends are geeks. In terms of what he does in life, he's a geek... but he doesn't (at least so far as I can tell) share a specific geek personality. [Personality-wise, he does have the geek traits of a tendency to get a bit obsessed with some things and a degree of defiance toward social criticism. But both those traits are also widespread among non-geeks]

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