Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 8: David Icke, Second-Rate Dick

David Icke has a new book out – The Trap – and though it should be pretty evident at this point that I think the man’s an especially nasty and hateful piece of work, I feel like looking away from what he’s doing is dangerous – he’s got too much influence on the hardcore fringe to be dismissed as an utter irrelevancy. I had no intention of paying money for the book, but I had an opportunity to look over a copy, and for the most part I thought that I wouldn’t need to cover it in detail after all – for there’s really very little in it which is actually new.

That said, what is new is absolutely risible.

Recycling material from book to book to book has been an Icke calling card for ages at this point, but The Trap is especially self-indulgent. With his previous book, Perceptions of a Renegade Mind, having released last year, there simply isn’t that much in the way of new developments for him to address. Oh, sure, stuff’s been happening and he does touch on stuff like Elon Musk’s abortive attempt to buy Twitter or other things which have outraged him, but in terms of major social trends there’s not much new under the sun compared to his previous book, other than COVID lockdowns have eased and so the backlash he was riding has died down.

In general, the overall tone of the book is somewhat similar to that one; lots of griping about the “woke”, lots of transphobia which, as I have explained over and over again in this series of articles, makes no sense in the context of Icke’s own cosmology, lots of conspiracism. There’s more autobiography – yet again combing his school days and picking out any minor lucky event as a cosmic sign he had a destiny of multiversal importance. The antisemitism is dialled back on somewhat – it’s still present, but the overt shouting about Sabbatean-Frankists has almost entirely disappeared bar from a brief reference to The Trigger.

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PC Pick-and-Mix 5: Quitting On Icewind Dale and Monkey Island

Time for another episode of my ongoing series about videogames where I’ve got enough thoughts to blurt them on here, but not enough to dedicate a full article to. This time, I’m going to talk about two games which in theory should be absolutely my jam, but in practice I just bounced off, and will probably never finish.

Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition

Icewind Dale is, for me, the problem child of the Infinity Engine games. The two Baldur’s Gate games have their issues, and may be somewhat generic, but at least there’s lots of stuff going on in them – there’s plenty of side plots and cities to explore and you get the feeling of a really deep world, even if it’s something of an illusion. Planescape: Torment is the critical darling of the set, largely because even though in some respects the combat isn’t up to much (having the main character be immortal skews the difficulty in odd ways) the writing is great, and the fact that you can get around a lot of the fights through talking is widely appreciated.

Icewind Dale zooms way over to the other end of the scale from Planescape: Torment: whereas that game cranked the “story” dial up to 11 and eased back the “combat” dial, Icewind Dale pretty much does the reverse. There are in theory a few side quest, but they’re pretty perfunctory; there is in theory a hub town, but it’s incredibly shallow compared to Sigil or Baldur’s Gate. You can use the pregen player characters or roll your own, but from a plot and story perspective it won’t actually matter because they don’t have backstories or personalities that actually matter and you can’t recruit NPCs. The entire game is built around an essentially linear series of dungeon crawls, focused on increasingly bullshitty fights, and whilst viciously abusing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules and the Infinity Engine’s mechanics in order to get ahead in a fight is a time-honoured tradition of Baldur’s Gate and similar, at the same time it stops being fun once it feels like the enemies are being just as cheesy right back at you.

Every so often I have a stab at playing it, remember why I dislike it, and stop. The Enhanced Edition at least plays smoothly on modern computers and is fun to tinker with in that respect, and it includes a lot of difficulty adjustment options, including a “story mode” which makes the combat extremely easy. In theory that’d be handy to get past the bullshittiest fights, but at the same time a story mode is only really worth it if the story in question is compelling enough to make you want to keep following it even when the combat loses its challenge. That isn’t the case here.

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A Tale of a Robbing Hood

It is the Middle Ages; the exact year and location is not specified, both geography and history being far from the interests of most of the characters in our tale; there’s signs that we’re probably somewhere near Prague, but there’s enough blending of the setting that the story could plausibly take place anywhere in the Christian portions of Western Europe. Our locale is a village by a deep forest which clusters around the lower reaches of a mountain; nearby, the legendary fountain of St. Agnes is a popular pilgrimage site, which enriches the local village both spiritually in terms of being a sacred site and financially thanks to the business opportunities which arise from providing shelter and supplies to travelling pilgrims.

Or at least, that’s how things used to be. Of late the infamous outlaw, Wat, has lurked in the forest and waylaid travellers, and that means custom has dried right up. The murder of a travelling peddler is the last straw – and the local priest (who the narrative only refers to as “the abbé”) has a plan. The last time the local lord’s soldiers came to try and root out Wat, it came to nothing and they were nothing but a burden on the village – but the locals know the area better. Why not form a little militia and deal with Wat themselves?

The orphan Mark lives a simple life; he’s two years off the end of his apprenticeship to Gloin, the village weaver. Mark and Gloin are part of the new militia by the abbé’s invitation – but Mark isn’t wholly sure of this. The local charcoal burners seem to have much nice to say about Wat, the eccentric, witchy Mother Cloot has her own perspective, and besides, Mark’s more interested in his mutual flirtation with Josellen, the daughter of the local innkeeper. When Mark and Josellen creep out for a nighttime tryst, they end up unexpectedly encountering Wat – and Mark finds his loyalties tested under the influence of the charismatic outlaw.

But Wat is not the only danger. Mother Cloot has her own agenda, and Wat and his charcoal burner allies are part of that; what’s more, a troop of vicious soldiers have been sent on a sweep to seek Wat, and frustrated in their goals and suspecting the villagers of working with Wat (a guess which isn’t wholly untrue) are throwing their weight about. Who has the right of it, and who doesn’t? Mark had better figure it out quick – for the Barrow Man, the ancient pagan king buried in the nearby tumulus, is stirring, and the conflict in the forest may give him fresh tools to work with…

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Cthulhu Mythos Anthologies Are Trash and I Hate Them

Multi-author anthologies of Cthulhu Mythos short stories are nothing new – not in the field, where they’ve been mainstays since August Derleth put out Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and not on this blog, where I’ve made a fairly regular habit of reviewing them. Lately, however, I’ve run into a rut. There’ve been several Mythos anthologies which have sat on my to-read pile; the two volumes of The Madness of Cthulhu, edited by S.T. Joshi (who despite his somewhat curmudgeonly opinions is generally one of the more discerning editors in the field), and various collections edited by Paula Guran, which I picked up in part because of positive buzz and in part because I think it’d actually be healthy for the field if anthology editors weren’t all dudes and so I wanted to economically encourage that.

Over the last few months I’ve finally gotten around to tackling the collections, but they’ve been falling flat with me – so much so that I’ve been unable to finish them. I genuinely don’t think it’s that my tastes have shifted – it’s more that the general tenor of the field has changed, as such things eventually do, and it’s now less aligned with my preferences than in general.

In some respects this is good – the alternative to change is stagnation. On the other hand, sometimes change involves moving away from the very thing which long-standing fans found enjoyable about the whole thing. If they’re the sort of fan who appreciates the racist undertones of Lovecraft’s stories, then so much the better. But if the Mythos field is walking away from cosmic horror itself, that may be a bigger problem…

Less Madness, More Muddle

The Madness of Cthulhu, put out in two volumes, is a weird one. S.T. Joshi hasn’t put out any further volumes in the series, and each individual one is comparatively thin by the standards of, say, the Black Wings series; I kind of wonder whether it was originally intended to be a single-volume thing and was then chopped in half by the publishers to milk it a little further. For the most part, it’s original stories, but there’s also a few reprints.

One of those reprints is the lead story: it’s At the Mountains of Murkiness, a parody of At the Mountains of Madness which Arthur C. Clarke knocked off for The Satellite fanzine in 1940. This is very silly, and rather gentle in nature – imagine Douglas Adams without the disguised anger which tends to disguise a lot of satire and you’re in the right sort of ballpark – but it’s more or less exactly the sort of thing you would expect someone to scribble for a fanzine or Internet forum as a little joke, not something of the substance you really want as the lead-off story in a Cthulhu Mythos anthology.

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Herzog’s First Flowering

Way back at the start of the pandemic I took a look at a cross-section of Werner Herzog’s earliest films and then didn’t follow up on it; now I’m going to correct that by taking a look at a slightly later phase of his career, including the moment when he turned from an earnest young arthouse director trying to prove himself into an earnest young arthouse director who had emphatically proved himself by producing his first classics. Along the way, we’re going to take a long hard look at disability, colonialism, abusive upbringings, and ski jumping…

Handicapped Future

Herzog would most infamously touch on the subject of disability in Even Dwarfs Started Small, and there’s certainly still room for debate as to whether the film represented an important opportunity for its little person actors or an act of exploitation. Herzog’s 1970 documentary Handicapped Future perhaps makes some amends for the possible missteps of Dwarfs. This has Herzog considering the treatment of children with physical disabilities in West Germany at the time, and in particular the cultural and institutional challenges they face.

Herzog not only makes sure to give the kids a chance to say their piece, but also allows their non-disabled peers to speak as well as their parents and teachers, in order to give a picture of these kids not as isolated individuals but as members of society – but society does not necessarily want them. The combination of ignorance, active cruelty, and misguided assumptions that they are better off being euthanised that they face is not only strikingly familiar (I have disabled friends in the UK in the modern day who speak of very similar treatment by others), but also troubling in the context of a country which three decades prior to the documentary had policies of extermination towards such kids.

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Scratching My Itchy Bundle: Command Line Hackers, Perpetually Mislaid Puzzlers, and Accidentally Beaten ARGs

Time for another entry in the most unpleasantly-named series on this blog, in which I pick through itch.io’s Bundle For Racial Equality and see which games actually snare my interest enough to make me attempt to play them.

Noise 1

Somewhere in a space station, a nightmarish experiment is reaching its culmination. Desperately seeking to stop this nascent catastrophe, someone onboard has managed to get a signal out – and you’re the one who’s picked the signal up. The problem is that the signal needs to be hidden in the station’s coms chatter, and so it’s not exactly high-bandwidth: you can get ASCII characters through and input very simple command line commands, and that’s it. But to help the mysterious dissident escape the brig, stop the experiment, and escape the station, it’s going to have to be enough…

Chevy Ray’s Noise 1 is an endearing little puzzle game. Although the top-down map of the levels you must navigate your mystery friend through is inspired by very old-school roguelikes – complete with “@” symbol representing the person who makes contact with you – you don’t have the same expansive range of commands that you would in a roguelike. Instead, you have to put in command-line commands to open doors, make terminals bleep to distract guards, and otherwise hack your way through the level. The command line interface is also useful for storytelling, since all the dialogue in the game is conveyed through text chat.

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Iff, You Can Keep Your Head When All Around You Are Losing Theirs…

As I’ve previously discussed on here, Wordsworth Editions’ Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural range includes a couple of volumes by Aleister Crowley. At the time they were published, these were departures from Wordsworth’s usual practice of concentrating on public domain material. (In the UK, as in much of the rest of the world, works published by Crowley in his lifetime entered the public domain after 2017.) Instead, they were the result of a deal reached between Wordsworth and one of Crowley’s magical orders, the Ordo Templi Orientis – specifically, the Caliphate faction which claims apostolic succession from Crowley via Karl Germer through Grady McMurty (AKA Hymenaeus Alpha) and which is currently led by William Breeze (AKA Hymenaeus Beta) – since they regard making Crowley’s texts available part of their sacred duties.

The first of these two volumes, which I reviewed previously, was The Drug and Other Stories, edited by David Tibet of Current 93 fame. The stories there in were by and large unrelated to one another – a lot of them had strands in common, largely based either on Crowley’s Thelemic philosophy or other pet themes of his, but they weren’t part of any sort of overarching continuity or closely thematically linked story-cycle. For this article, I’m going to cover The Simon Iff Stories & Other Works, which collect those ofCrowley’s short stories which were genuinely meant to go together, either via the use of recurring characters in an ongoing fictional series or because they were developed as a group to address different perspectives on the same central theme.

These come in two chunks. The last fifth or so of the volume collects Golden Twigs, a series of short stories inspired by The Golden Bough by James Frazer, but by far the bulk of the collection consists of the Simon Iff stories, Crowley’s detective series. (Not collected here is the sole full-length novel featuring Iff, Moonchild.) A caveat should be borne in mind, which is that both of these were largely written whilst Crowley was living in the US, and first appeared when he was working as editor of The International, a literary magazine put out by the pro-German propagandist George Sylvester Viereck, whose Fatherland newspaper advocated for the US to, if not intervening on the side of Germany in WWI, at least remain neutral.

Writing for both The International and The Fatherland, Crowley claims to have been acting on behalf of the British secret service, with the idea being that he’d make Viereck’s propaganda sufficiently hyperbolic in tone as to discredit it and ruin its power as propaganda. Crowley may well be lying about doing this on behalf of British intelligence, but one would think that if this were not true he’d have received some level of hassle from the authorities over it after the War; so far as anyone can tell he never did, even when he was coming under scrutiny for all sorts of other reasons.

Nonetheless, in my review of The Drug and Other Stories I noted that Crowley’s already rather variable quality dipped during the International years. (If you remember, I thought that of all the stories in that book only The Testament of Magdalen Blair was really a keeper.) Perhaps this was a factor of him deliberately dragging his feet as part of the mission to sabotage Viereck, or maybe he was just cranking out crap to pay the bills – for his International job came hot on the heels of him almost running out of money.

Either way, I wasn’t sure about the stories from this period of his work when I read the other volume, and a clear majority of the material here comes from that period. Seven of the eight Golden Twigs stories made it into The International, as did the first sequence of Simon Iff tales (later dubbed by Crowley The Scrutinies of Simon Iff). Crowley had knocked out by far the longest of the Simon Iff sequences, Simon Iff In America, with the intention of running it in The International, but was fired before he had the chance; the remaining stories consist of fairly brief little collections, Simon Iff Abroad and Simon Iff, Psychoanalyst, both of which seem to be the skeletons of longer sequences left either unwritten or lost. Let’s see how much of this I can stomach before I toss the book away like I did The Drug

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Shady Characters and the Ghosts That Haunt Them

Dark Companions, published in 1982, was a landmark in Ramsey Campbell’s career – his first English-language short story collection to make its debut not with Arkham House, which as a small press was largely targeting the specialist genre market, but with a mainstream publisher. A French collection, L’Homme du Souterrain, had come out in 1979, and included some stories which had not yet been collected in an English-language release of his stories (though they’d had their separate debuts on the English market), but the release of Dark Companions via Fontana in the UK and Macmillan in the US is indicative of the growth of Campbell’s stature in the market of his birth language.

By this point in time, Campbell had already produced a clutch of his early novels, but he was maintaining a steady output of short stories; here as with his novels, he was largely shifting away from the Cthulhu Mythos work which had made up much of his early oeuvre, perhaps to get some distance from the more simplistic Lovecraft pastiches he’d started out with. As with The Height of the Scream, his previous English-language collection from 1976, the tales here are non-Cthulhu Mythos stories, or at least not stories which outright declare themselves to be Mythos-y. (Napier Court, penned in 1967 and the only story in the collection to predate Campbell quitting his day job in 1973 to work as a writer full-time, is set in Brichester, but is not unambiguously a Mythos tale – it could quite happily be a more conventional haunted house story.)

As Campbell notes in his introduction, there’s a clutch of stories in here which won awards and are all in their own way themed around childhood. The Chimney, which got the World Fantasy Award, is sort of about a child who’s haunted by Father Christmas, but is actually about a child haunted both by the difficulty of pleasing their parents and their dawning awareness of their parents’ fragility. As is often the case with Campbell, especially in this period of his career, the story mixes autobiography and social observation. Campbell’s made no secret of his mother’s mental health struggles and the impact that had on his early life, but unlike the protagonist of The Chimney his father did not play much of a role in his life, due to a bizarre arrangement in which both Campbell’s parents, despite living in the same house, were effectively leading totally separate lives.

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The Obnoxious Obstructions of Obduction

One fine night you are in a little park area, when a giant glowing seed-like object floats down from the night sky and teleports you away to… somewhere. You find yourself what looks for all the world like a spherical chunk of the New Mexico desert plopped into an alien world with a sort of Roger Dean landscape aesthetic, complete with a run-down looking old town. As you explore, it becomes apparent that this is part of some sort of bizarre cosmic exchange; not only Earth, but other worlds entirely have been affected by the seeds, and those spirited away have been brought to little enclaves like this to while away their time.

All is not well. There’s signs that some manner of horrible conflict erupted between the different exiled populations, and the town is near-deserted. What happened here? Does the mysterious – but deeply unhelpful – C.W. really have the secret to getting back home? And is getting back home necessarily the right course of action?

Obduction is an adventure game from Cyan, the creators of Myst, and whilst strictly speaking it’s not necessarily a point-and-click adventure in a similar vein – it’s done in Unity and by default you can walk about in a free-roaming fashion controlling the game with a gamepad – it’s so rooted in the general game design approach that Cyan love to use that it may as well be. In fact, you can even set up the control system so that instead of free-roaming, you can click to go from hotspot to hotspot, exactly like in Myst.

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Repairing the Tapestry of the Mabinogion

As I noted in my previous article on the Mabinogion, it’s a misconception to treat it as one singular text when it’s basically a grab-bag of stories compiled in a couple of manuscript books; sure, the tales do have some common threads running through them, but the common thread is largely “these are all Welsh legends recorded at a particular time in history”. (For instance, in some King Arthur looms large, in others he simply isn’t a concept.) Even the term Mabinogion was applied to them centuries after the fact by those rediscovering the texts.

That said, the first four tales are undeniably part of a single whole – they declare themselves within their text as Branches of the “Mabinogi”, though there’s no clear consensus on what that actually means, and there’s extensive overlaps of characters between them. Although it can be fashionable to take such national epics as being Christianised versions of pagan stories, in which the deities are reinterpreted as legendary kings, that interpretation really does fit here, with the royalty of those stories being presented as being fantastical wizards or powerful giants or other such larger-than-life figures.

All of the Branches are basically the length of short stories in modern terms, but in 1936 Evangeline Walton published her first novel, The Virgin and the Swine, expanding the Fourth Branch into a full-length novel. Though it got some critical praise, in general it vanished. Walton, who all her life struggled with various health issues, was not that active as a writer – so when Ballantine republished the book as The Island of the Mighty in 1970, they were a little surprised to hear from her that she was still alive, and indeed had about half a followup written – would they like that as well?

The Ballantine publication of The Island of the Mighty wasn’t technically in the famed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, but is regarded as being a precursor to it. With Lin Carter as editor, Ballantine Adult Fantasy was sort of a forerunner to Gollancz’ Fantasy Masterworks, in that both series put a big emphasis on digging up and republishing fantasy novels of the past. The Adult Fantasy series, in particular, veered away from the lowbrow Robert E. Howard-imitating Frank Frazetta-aestheticed sword and sorcery that was the current commercial hotness and made a serious bid at marketing fantasy fiction as including thoughtful, mature work of literary merit. (It was very much the Adult Fantasy series in the sense of “grown-up fantasy”, not “porn”.)

That being the case, more Mabinogi adaptations from Walton seemed perfect for the line, and so Ballantine were only too happy to put out the next three books. In later years, they’d be collected together in various omnibus editions – my one is the Fantasy Masterworks rerelease (told you that Masterworks was kind of a followup to Ballantine Adult Fantasy) – and it’s in that version they are most easily found today.

I somewhat remembered liking these books when I first read them some 19-odd years ago, so I thought I’d revisit them now and see how they’ve aged. Though Walton’s work may have been a bit of a novelty in 1936, there was an absolute flood of Celtic-themed fantasy in later decades, and when I read the original Mabinogion versions of the Branches (albeit in translation) they didn’t prompt many memories of these, which doesn’t suggest that what I read back in 2003 didn’t have that much staying power. Let’s see if more sticks in my mind, now that I can read it with the original stories in my back pocket.

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