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Tsundoku Psychohazard

Joined 2 years, 4 months ago

Under electronic conditions there is no escape.

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Review of 'Nomad codes' on Goodreads

5 stars

After finishing this book, I had a minor existential crisis: my sense of self-worth is based largely on the idea that I have a unique combination of interests, and therefore, can create unique syntheses, but here was Erik Davis demonstrating that not only is he into everything I'm into, but he has also done scholarly-level research into all of those things, performed risky direct experiments with them, and (to top it all off) he can write about them with both flair and lucidity! And then, here he is digging deep into things I've never heard of.

This book is an excellent, informative, and joyful way to make yourself feel inadequate as an intellectual and as a weirdo. I highly recommend it.

Cybertext (1997, Johns Hopkins University Press) 4 stars

Review of 'Cybertext' on Goodreads

4 stars

This book is alternately enlightening and infurating. On the one hand, it is a seminal text for game design because it integrates games into the existing traditions of literary theory in a more thoughtful way than had previously been done. On the other hand, at the time it was written, it seems to have been intended primarily as a volley in an ongoing culture war in a tiny corner of digital humanities.

Aarseth calls bullshit on certain then-widespread claims about hypertext by pointing to actually-existing hypertext systems like StorySpace and the World Wide Web and noting that they don't provide the claimed capabilities -- and here, he is right. Then he extends the criticism to Ted Nelson, whose ideas about hypertext Aarseth understands no better than Tim Berners-Lee did: a mistake, because Ted's proposed (and prototyped) systems do, indeed, have those features. This is a pattern Aarseth repeats throughout the …

The Talisman (Hardcover, 1984, Viking) 4 stars

Jack Sawyer, twelve years old, is about to begin a most fantastic journey—an exalting, terrifying …

Review of 'The Talisman' on Goodreads

3 stars

This book was interesting to read from a historical perspective, because of the trajectory of both King and Straub's careers. In some ways, it feels like a trial run for both Straub's Shadowland and King's It (both of which would come out only a few years later); in other ways, it shares elements from The Stand and Ghost Story that otherwise don't show up much in these authors' respective ouvres. So, it's kind of a missing-link book.

It's also a historically important book, because (as Matthew Kirschenbaum notes in Track Changes, his cultural history of word processing) it is the first published book to be collaborated upon electronically. King and Straub were both early adopters of consumer word processing technology, and though they used different types of machines, they had a highly technical friend set up modems and a format converter and they swapped revisions once a day over the …

Review of "The psychology of man's possible evolution" on Goodreads

3 stars

Clearer than In Search of the Miraculous, and in parts more reasonable, it's nevertheless impossible to avoid being put off by the dogmatic language & some red flags (particularly in the final section).

Review of 'Gothic Tales of Terror' on Goodreads

3 stars

While historically interesting, the selection of stories here is disappointing: many are dull, and most have little in common with what a modern reader thinks of as the gothic sensibility. Haining's choices are motivated by Montague Summers', and Summers (while influential) was a deeply strange man whose life and literary career seems driven by a need to be contrarian; his ideas about what makes for a good or interesting piece of gothic short fiction does nothing to contest this.

Review of 'Occulture' on Goodreads

1 star

A collection of previously-published essays, sophomoric in both style and character, and ranging from mediocre to unpublishable in quality.

If you are a practitioner of magick or have an intellectual interest in its intersection with art, this book is not for you; if you believe that "sjws are ruining magick" and would like someone to agree with you at length without supporting his points, you will find that this book meets your needs.

The experience of reading this slog was made even more disappointing by the occasional hint of potential: every few essays, Abrahamsson will make half of a good point, or reference a potentially interesting idea, only to drop it. Had he kept to the ostensible topic of his essays or explored interesting points rather than lazily going back to flogging the same dead horse in every section, he might have written something worth reading, but: what is good …

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which magic exists in separate universes …

Review of 'The Compleat Enchanter' on Goodreads

4 stars

Solid, compelling, and entertaining. With the exception of the orientalist aspects of the last novella (presumably imported from the original work) and the subtle misogyny of the protagonist (perhaps intended as a character flaw), these stories have aged pretty well.

American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technologt (2019, Oxford University Press) 3 stars

Review of 'American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technologt' on Goodreads

1 star

Only repetition could allow a 244 page book to be this shallow.

The author's doctorate in religious studies should have made her well-qualified to meaningfully expand on Jacques Vallee's Passport to Magonia (of which she claims to be a fan), but she instead betrays an ignorance of its contents, presenting material covered in it as though original, failing to mention important and relevant insights from it when covering that detail, and at one point, incomprehensibly claiming (apropos of nothing & against all evidence) that Vallee couldn't possibly be familiar with the work of Swenenbourg.

The book is framed by an extended narrative section in which the author repeats the claims of a cartoonishly obvious con artist.

Structurally, the book is a mess. In the narrative sections, we often jump around in time three to four times in a single paragraph. Even outside of those sections, sentences are choppy and confusing: …

Review of 'Politics and the occult' on Goodreads

4 stars

Not quite as dense as Sex and Rockets (and about even with Lachman's Crowley biography, in terms of readability), this book nevertheless demonstrates both a breadth and depth of scholarship on occult history that's remarkable. It's not a casual read but one that might serve as a gateway to research into other works -- a starting point for looking up the details of individual movements that might catch your eye, connecting them together on a macro scale.

I always find Lachman's books to be a slog to read, simply because their prose is workmanlike rather than polished, but he always pulls his weight in terms of sheer subject-matter knowledge. In this case, he draws out a complex genealogy of occult-informed and occult-adjacent political thought -- a chain of influence from the gnostics to the rosicrucians to Evola to Left Behind -- and illuminates the various ways certain ideas twisted over …

The Creative Tarot (Paperback, 2016, Atria Books) 4 stars

A guide for artists and creative people looking to tarot for guidance and inspiration. Written …

Review of 'The creative tarot' on Goodreads

4 stars

I came to this expecting something that would show how to create compelling narratives from spreads (sort of like is done with the StoryForge deck), and this is not that kind of book (and instead focuses on variations of more traditional readings geared toward long-term creative projects). It presents spreads and card interpretations that push tarot closer to Oblique Strategies rather than closer to StoryForge. (This is OK: tarot is a lot more symbolically potent than Oblique Strategies and the spreads this book presents are good ones.)

Another thing this book did that kind of blew my mind was the organization. Rather than organizing first by suits and then by cards, all minor arcana were organized by number and then by suit, illuminating relationships between (say) the five of cups and the five of wands which I had never considered before. (Perhaps this isn't unique to this book, but I …