[Before you read this book review, know that I not only intend to offer my opinion on the novel, but also explore the historical events of the Mexican Conquest in some depth. If you are a complete neophyte in the topic & want to enjoy Graham's War God without 'spoilers', then I suggest you close this link & open the Amazon page to order it instead, since my ultra-ultra short review is "I liked it, get the book" anyway --same goes for anyone daunted by the prospect of reading a 3000+-word-long essay, which will only reinforce your decision to buy War God. For the undecided (and the masochists) please enjoy]
Broken spears lie in the roads;
We have torn our hair in our grief
The houses are roofless now, and their walls
Are red with blood.
Worms are swarming in the streets and plazas,
And the walls are spattered with gore
The water has turned red, as if it were dyed
And when we drink it,
It has the taste of brine
We have pounded our hands in despair
Against the adobe walls,
For our inheritance, our city, is lost and dead
The shields of our warriors were its defense.
But they could not save it.
We have chewed dry twigs and salt grasses:
We have filled our mouths with dust and bits of adobe.
We have eaten lizards, rats and worms
When we had meat, we ate it almost raw.
Weep my people
Know that with these disasters
We have lost the Mexican nation
The water has turned bitter
Our food is bitter
These are the acts of the Giver of Life.
~From the book The Broken Spears, chapter XV
As a literary fan, I honestly don't know which would be harder: To write a completely fictional story, or a fictionalized account of a true historical event. The open-ended freedom of pure fiction could turn into a double-edged sword in the hands of an inexperienced writer; whereas with fictionalized events, you wouldn't be allowed to surprise the reader by deviating too much from what was actually recorded in the History books – unless you're Quentin Tarantino, that is.
Which is why I was very interested in reading Graham Hancock's War God, his first non-fiction (‘first non-fiction-based novel’, or ‘second fiction novel’?) book & a novelized exploration of an event I probably know better than most: The Spanish Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. ... Read More »
"Technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change", said the fictional chemist Walter White on the hit television show Breaking Bad. "Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that's all of life, right? It's the constant, it's the cycle. It's solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation". Walter White's words paint him as much a latter-day alchemist, ruminating on the mysteries of life and metamorphosis, than as the criminal crystal meth technician that he was.
His words also serve as a succinct description of the questions that drove real-life drug chemist, Alexander 'Sasha' Shulgin, who entered the state of physical dissolution at around 5pm on June 2nd, 2014, just a couple of weeks short of his 89th birthday. Shulgin too was fascinated by the study of change - in his case, how the mind and consciousness could be modified so profoundly through interactions with the most nuanced changes to molecules. "I was always interested in how, if you move one carbon atom, for example, on amphetamine, you can change it from being a strong stimulant to a psychedelic," he once told a reporter. "How is it that the difference of one atom produces such a dramatically different result in the human? The answer is, nobody knows."
Shulgin though, was no Walter White. His concern was not with power or making money (so much so that wife Ann once quipped that a little money would have been nice), and for the most part his experiments synthesizing new drugs were done on the right side of the law (he held a Schedule 1 license until 1994). It was always that question, about the change in consciousness produced by chemical modifications, that drove him throughout his life. And as such, the test subject for the synthesized psychedelics that he invented was always, primarily, himself (as well as another willing subject, wife Ann). Their seminal books TiHKAL and PiHKAL ('Tryptamines/Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved') provide a permanent record of their bio-assay experiments; a typical entry, such as that for the tryptamine DIPT, includes the chemical procedure to synthesize the drug, followed by comments on the qualitative aspects and duration of the experience (18mg: "Wild effects noted in an hour. Remarkable changes in sounds heard"; 250mg: "Shortly after I ingested the substance I heard a spirit say, 'Once in a lifetime.' She encouraged me to believe that I would have more life after the experience. But, there was a feeling of foreboding"). Each entry finished with a personal commentary, which might touch on anything from chemistry notes to possible applications of the drug. Not all experiences were interesting or enjoyable though, as one might expect when experimenting with the effects of newly designed chemicals – the Shulgins suffered, on various occasions, nausea, periods of unconsciousness, and terrifying psychological symptoms.
This combination of precise chemistry skills with the drive to self-experimentation and self-exploration evokes the label of 'alchemist' all too easily. And Sasha Shulgin's physical appearance ... Read More »
(photo by Tim Green)
The Minster Church of St. John the Baptist Halifax is a beautiful parish church, which has served West Yorkshire for over 900 years. Its classical Medieval form, gargoyles and exquisite stained glass windows are both typical of the great churches of England and carry with them the weight of England’s tumultuous ecclesiastical history. As befitting such a building, it has a very fine roof.
On 10 May 2014ce, Current 93 came in and blew the roof off of the place.
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Current 93 - named for Aleister Crowley's magickal current - have been a powerful, if sometimes overlooked, influence on industrial and dark ambient music and British magic and mysticism since their founding in 1982. Essentially a series of collaborations between founder and sole continuing member David Michael Tibet and a continually shifting collection of musicians (including the likes of Nick Cave, Björk, Steve Ignorant of Crass, Marc Almond, Antony Hegarty, Andrew W.K. and Tiny Tim), their sound has shifted from their original tape-loop-based work of their early productions to a style which Tibet has called ‘apocalyptic folk’ - and the Apocalypse, especially in the original Greek sense of ‘an unveiling’, is something Tibet is particularly interested in.
Despite the enduring Englishness of Current 93’s symbolism (Enid Blyton's childhood character Noddy, picnics, fields of oil seed rape, British folk music and practices), Tibet was actually born and raised in Malaysia. Interested in the mystical from his youth, he has pursued these interests enthusiastically - his studies include reading Crowley at 13, training in Nyingmapa Tantric Buddhism (probably the reason he was given his surname of Tibet by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge during his brief stint in Psychic TV) and learning to read Hebrew, Akkadian, Ancient Greek and Coptic in order to better study early Christian works. Tibet considers himself a Christian, albeit one happy to work with these eclectic influences... and also to be the creator of what I truly think is one of the finest curses I have ever encountered: the track ‘Benediction’ from the first C93 album I ever heard, the long-time banned Swastikas For Noddy.
What drove me on then as now was my sense that time was running out, that the apocalypse was also personal and that playing hide and seek behind all the cartoon messiahs was the Messiah with both peace and a sword.
The Halifax concert was unquestionably a powerful manifestation of this compassionate-yet-cataclysmic apocalyptic spirit. It began with bells...
Before the band came out a carillon of bells played on the speakers, resonating in the Minster’s glorious acoustic space, as the aisles filled with an eclectic mix of music fans, pagans and goths (including one fine lady in full Edwardian costume). Finally, the band took their places and Tibet - a puckish, tiny figure in trilby and bare feet - sang out the first lines in his distinctive, querulous voice;
“The Invisible Church...”
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Never a band to excessively dwell on their musical past, the majority of the gig comprised a performance of the latest album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) - the music mostly led by the playing of pianist Reinier van Houdt, a performer who never forgot that the piano is a percussion instrument. There’s a resonance to those songs and Tibet’s voice, even beyond that provided by the setting - a sense of what the Sufis call a zab’bat, a ‘forceful occasion’. Tibet is far from what one would consider a normal front man in the classic rock sense - often he wandered into the aisle of the church to just stand and watch the band as they played, sometimes singing from there (especially in the sorrowful ‘With These Dromedaries’, with its heart-wrenching line "I saw Jhonn pass by" - referring to his late friend and abiding influence Jhonn Balance of Coil). The gig ended with two rousing encores of past works - ‘Imperium V’ and ‘Black Ships Ate The Sky’. By the time the last notes echoed in those old church walls, the audience, the band, Tibet - even that ancient space itself - seemed transformed, carried into a future of possible apocalyptic times, somehow, the better and stronger for it.
I'm not an evangelist… Current is about trying to explain myself to myself and to work out my own salvation.
The album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) and other Current 93 works are available from copticcat.com
Post Script: Synchronicity fans might care to note the gig took place on John Constantine's birthday.