A bookish ramble

Magic and Mystery

cover of Magic and MysteryA friend passed this very old, battered copy of Magic and Mystery in Tibet my way amongst others she was discarding recently. I found it fascinating as an historical artifact and impressive in an intrepid-traveller kind of way.

The author, Alexandra David-Neel, was part of the early Western engagement with Asian religion, along with the theosophists (whom she knew well).

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Madness Lies Waiting

Madness Lies Waiting was conceived, many years ago, as a piece of performance art for a dozen speaking voices, preferably live performers on stage.

At the time (1970s)  I was dabbling in poetry (including graphic poetry) and graphic art while studying music composition, particularly the (then) avant-garde represented by Cage, Cardew, and the (then) new resources of electronic music.

Madness Lies Waiting drew on all of these influences. I stopped developing it when I was satisfied with it, which is the only way a creative person will acknowledge a work as ‘finished’, but its anomalous nature condemned it to remain unperformed.

The image posted here was created many years later (2005) as an attempt to present it in graphic form, prompted by a call for submissions for a public ‘poetry wall’ in Perth: the exhibition was called ‘Out of the Asylum’ and I remembered Madness Lies Waiting, a poem which needed to be presented as a very long banner … I really had to send it. Once again, however, its format was against it: it really needs to be big – a couple of metres long.

Click on the thumbnail to see it at a readable, but still less than ideal, size.

madness lies waiting

It’s a very wide image, so you will very likely need to scroll across it. As you do, try to hear it as voices entering one at a time, whispering at first but growing steadily louder to end up shouting over each other.

If it isn’t scary, the vision in my mind hasn’t been recreated in yours.

Key classics of fantasy and science fiction

Once upon a time, no-one was considered truly educated unless they knew Shakespeare’s plays. More recently, but still not recently, an influential critic published a really big list of books which he thought were necessary for an understanding of western culture – sorry: Western Culture.

My ambitions are much smaller. All I claim is that anyone who doesn’t know the books on my list has missed key works of fantasy and science fiction, so they have missed some great books and will miss innumerable cultural references.

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Favourite Fantasy

In the last few weeks I’ve been asked by a couple of lovely people for recommended reading in fantasy and science fiction. My only qualification is that I have read so much in these genres over the last [redacted] decades that I have opinions based on vast experience, but here goes.

A few general points first …

I’m not going to mention a book or series by name unless it’s one I recommend. That saves me from saying “this is a good book” every time and it saves you from even hearing about bad books.

Inline links are (unless otherwise noted) to my own reviews, most of them very short, on this blog or on Green Path.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism but I do prefer fiction which provides insights into ourselves or the way we live. I’ve said elsewhere that SF is brilliant for thought-experiments, but so is fantasy.

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Introducing Discworld

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is old enough that it should hardly need an introduction but some people have been unfortunate enough not to encounter his magical (in both senses) world. It’s their loss, not mine, but I am always sorry to see people missing out on such a feast of freewheeling humour, ingenious invention, sharp satire and humane wisdom.

For their benefit, then, I have put together a quick introduction to the series, short reviews of two of the books, and advice about making the sprawling series more approachable. All of that makes this blog post long enough to need its own index but I’m also going to put the Reading Guide here at the top for convenience.

IntroductionMaking MoneyI Shall Wear MidnightNavigating the Series

discworld-reading-order-guide-2.0
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