A Feral Process

Adam Parfrey of Feral House liked to put out clusters of books based on his particular interests, and one of those interests was the infamous Process Church, a cult from the 1960s and 1970s whose severe black uniforms and Satanic rites gained them a terrifying reputation. Robert de Grimston was the figurehead whose name was attached to most of the more traditional literature the Process created, but it has become apparent through later disclosure that it’s truer to say that the leader was his wife Mary Ann MacLean, who took pains to keep her importance a secret from outsiders.

If nothing else, the acid test of this came when de Grimston and MacLean split up in 1974; by and large, the community sided with MacLean and Robert was left trying with much less success to try and propagate his own reformed version of the Process before he gave up by the end of the 1970s. There can be few more unambiguous demonstrations of where the true power lay than in this display of loyalty to MacLean.

Under MacLean, the Process Church renamed itself first the Foundation Church of the Millennium, then the Foundation Faith of the Millennium, and established the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. By 1993, the legal entity which had been the Foundation rebranded itself as Best Friends Animal Society and, to all outside appearances, had abandoned all religious and spiritual ambitions entirely for the sake of running the shelter; MacLean died in 2005. This would make it substantially easier to publish material on the Process without fear of litigation, and Feral House was happy to oblige…

Love Sex Fear Death

Subtitled The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final JudgmentLove Sex Fear Death is billed as being by Timothy Wyllie and edited by Adam Parfrey, but I’d say on balance it is more of an anthology brought together by Parfrey than it is a single work by Wyllie, particularly since Wyllie’s words only account for about a third of the book. Still, Wyllie’s story is an important one and I can see the justification in giving him prominent billing. Wyllie was part of the Process Church before and after it had that name. He knew Robert de Grimston in 1959, before de Grimston and Mary Ann ever met.

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Above Top Secret, But Not Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Timothy Good’s career has seen him make a mark on two distinct fields. In the world of music, he’s an experience violinist who has played for an extended period of time with several highly regarded orchestras, and has worked as a session musician for major stars. In his other career, he is a UFOlogist, whose Above Top Secret was one of the more prominent tomes to emerge from the British UFO scene.

Over the course of Above Top Secret, Good wants to persuade the reader of two things:

  1. Various governments around the world have looked into the UFO phenomenon, but have played down or actively covered up this interest on their part.
  2. At least a portion of UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spaceships piloted by aliens, and some governments have proof of this they are concealing.

Good plays a clever rhetorical trick with this book; to my eyes, the materials he offers do substantiate his first point, but point 1 can be true without point 2 being also true. His evidence offered for point 2 is much more tenuous, but if you are not reading carefully you may find yourself buying into 2 on the basis of how well he’s sold you on 1.

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Two Tubbs of Dumarest, Please

Science fiction writing loves its ongoing series, but E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest saga is truly something else. Debuting in 1967 and with the final completed part published in 2008, 2 years before Tubb’s death, the Dumarest series took in some 33 novels covering a single epic journey across the galaxy.

The first story, The Winds of Gath, introduces us to the basic premises of the series. Earl Dumarest is a wandering space traveller who survives on a narrow margin, often only able to afford Low Passage between star systems: instead of enjoying the luxuries of warmth and food and light and air during space voyages, Low Passengers literally travel with the cargo, cryogenically frozen for the trip in a process with a 15% mortality rate.

In short, almost every single trip Dumarest takes is a risk – but a risk he is willing to take, for Dumarest originated on Earth, birthplace of humanity, and is determined to get home. Earth is a blasted wasteland, you see, and when Dumarest got a chance to stow away on one of the few ships to visit the place to get offworld and away, he jumped at it – only to find that in the wider galaxy Earth is considered to be a myth, and nobody will admit to knowing where it is or believe him when he tells them he comes from there. Consequently, Dumarest travels the length and breadth of the colonised universe, desperate to track down any clue – no matter how minor – which could help him find Earth again and solve this grand mystery.

The Winds of Gath

We join Dumarest’s adventures just as he arrives at Gath – a dead-end world for space travellers who lack the funds for a return ticket, since there isn’t really enough of a functional economy there to let poverty-stricken space bums scrimp and save enough cash to buy a low passage out of there. Dumarest didn’t intend to go there at all, except the ship he was travelling on changed course to accommodate the wishes of the Matriarch of Kund, the ruler of a powerful realm of female-dominated planets.

The Matriarch, her ward Seena Thoth, and their entourage are not the only tourists – a swathe of wealthy individuals have come to Gath, including the sadistic and cruel Prince of Emmened, because they have all heard of its sole attraction. This is the massive mountain range a few days’ walk north of the spaceport, where every so often the curious weather patterns of this planet (arising because one hemisphere always faces the local star whilst the other hemisphere is in eternal night) cause a massive storm to erupt – a storm in which, it is said, the voices of the dead can be heard.

Dumarest is sceptical, as well he should be, but he has other concerns – like keeping his right-hand man Megan alive in one of the toughest seasons yet for the travellers stuck in the shanty-town surrounding the spaceport, earning his way off-world, and foiling a conspiracy against the Matriarch’s party. Meanwhile, Dyne, the matriarch’s hyper-logical Cyber advisor, is playing his own game in the aid of the Cyclan, the Cyber guild, and the vast Cyclan hive-mind – a colossal complex of living brains extracted from the most exceptional Cybers, in regular telepathic contact with Cybers across the galaxy thanks to the powers of the Homochon implant. And what, exactly, does a huge ever-growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the Ultraworld want in this situation?

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We Can Remake It For You Wholesale

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale has one of the more cumbersome titles of Philip K. Dick’s short stories, but under the much snappier title of Total Recall it ended up being one of the more successful adaptations of his work. Though not given the reverential critical acclaim of Blade Runner, the original movie turned a healthy profit – even when you take into account its status as one of the most expensive movies ever made at the time – and has a decent critical reception among both SF fans and action movie junkies.

Hollywood cannot leave well enough alone and will always remake rather than innovate if it can, so in 2012 Len Wiseman directed a remake, retaining the Total Recall title. How do these two recollections compare? Let’s see…

The Original

It’s 2084 and humanity is in the process of colonising Mars, with a significant population living in environmentally-controlled domed cities there. The governor, Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) exerts political control over the colony and oppresses the significant mutant population through his control of the oxygen supply. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a construction worker living on Earth, is fascinated with the situation, not least because he’s been having evocative dreams of visiting Mars.

Quaid wants to take a holiday there, but his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) discourages this, pointing out the danger of taking a trip to a conflict zone. Instead, Quaid decides to go visit Rekall, Inc., a service which implants enjoyable memories into the minds of its customers, so he can at least have the recollection of having had an exciting visit to Mars (with an extra twist of memories of being a secret agent for good measure) even if he can’t do it for real. However, when Rekall’s technicians have sedated Quaid and are about to begin the implantation process, they discover that there’s already a pre-existing implant in there.

Cancelling the implant process and bundling Quaid into a cab, Rekall try to pretend he never visited – but when Quaid’s work buddy Harry (Robert Constanzo) pulls a gun on him and attempts to kill him because he went to Rekall, and when Lori tries to kill him when he gets home, he realises that something is up. As it turns out, Quaid wasn’t originally Quaid – in a past life he was Carl Hauser, an important agent for Cohaagen, who after attempting to defect ended up getting his memories wiped and a new life set up for him as Quaid. Now Quaid/Hauser must get his ass to Mars, discover the truth about his past and Cohaagen’s plans, and free the planet’s inhabitants. But Cohaagen’s goons, led by the vicious Richter (Michael Ironside) – Lori’s real husband and Hauser’s former buddy – are one step behind…

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 5: Hey, Did You Know We Have a Movie Coming Out?

So far on my X-Files rewatch we’ve seen the show’s muddled beginnings, cheered it on as it got good, savoured its prime, and tried to enjoy what we could as it gradually began its decline. (We’ve also glanced over at Millennium and gone “nah, can’t be bothered”.)

Now it’s time to look at season 5, produced in parallel with The X-Files: Fight the Future, the first movie. As we’ll see, that’s a circumstance which ended up overshadowing this season somewhat.

I noted how in the previous season the writing team had become somewhat contracted, and that’s exacerbated further this time. The inner circle has now contracted to just Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban, and Vince Gilligan – four writers as opposed to seven last season – and once again, there’s much less outside contributions than in earlier seasons, with only three episodes having scripts which weren’t written outright or contributed to by those four people.

The season opens with another Chris Carter two-parter focusing on the mytharc, Redux and Redux II, resolving both the “did Mulder kill himself?” cliffhanger from last season (of course he fucking didn’t) and the “will Scully’s cancer be cured?” (of course it fucking will). The only really exciting aspect of the cliffhanger, really, is “Whose dead body is that in Mulder’s apartment that Scully misidentified as Mulder to cover for him?”, and the answer turns out to be “a generic agent of the Conspiracy we don’t care about”.

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Twin Entries Into the Tensorate

As publishers, Tor seem to be willing to push the boat out for JY Yang’s series of books set in the silkpunk world of the Tensorate, at least in the sense that for the debut of the series they accommodated Yang’s writing in a novel manner: The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, the first two stories in the series, were published as separate novellas on the same day in 2017. Novellas aren’t as hot in the fantasy field as brick-sized tomes, and other publishers might have wanted to nudge Yang into either combining the stories into one narrative or junking one and developing the other into a full novel.

Both of these would have done violence to the work, and both novellas are thoughtfully crafted enough that this would have been a real shame – there’s a strong new artistic vision here, and it’s good to see Tor giving these texts the careful treatment they deserve.

The Black Tides of Heaven

In a region which bears some funhouse mirror resemblance to east Asia – with locales ranging from not-China to not-India having particular prominence – the Protectorate rules. The Protectorate is symbiotically linked with the Tensorate, the body governing the Tensors – people with the psychic ability to manipulate Slack, something a bit like the Tao and a bit like the background murmurings of the five elements. As well as having various effectively magic powers as a result of this, the Tensors can also use their capabilities to make many technologies work; through this control of technology the Tensorate exerts power, and through its control of the Tensorate the Protectorate rules.

The current Protector is a fearsome woman who has recently had to call on the High Abbot’s pugilists to put down a rebellion; in return, she gives to him two twins, newly born to her. The siblings (who are only siblings at this point – in this society gender is chosen at the point when the individual chooses to identify accordingly) are Akeha and Mokoya, the protagonists of the first two novellas in JY Yang’s Tensorate series. Mokoya has the gift of prophecy, whilst Akeha has magnificent control of the Slack, to the point of being able to stop a heart at a distance.

The Black Tides of Heaven is Akeha’s story, spanning some 35 years of his life from birth to a critical confrontation with his tyrannical mother. Over the course of this he has to construct a place for himself in the world – in which he was always a spare child, and whilst adept at Tensor arts in no way as unique as his sister. Across the story he has to come to an acceptable conclusion about the reality or otherwise of free will in a cosmos where some events, at least, seem to be irrevocably fixed, a struggle reflected in his increasingly distant interactions with Mokoya, who is of course a living symbol of predestination thanks to her prophecies.

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Choppers of Mass Distraction

Fashion in conspiracy theories come and go. Whilst some ideas stick around for the long term, others seem destined to rise and fall. In the 1990s, there was a craze to talk about unmarked black helicopters flying around in US airspace as a sign of… something. People weren’t clear about exactly what this was supposed to portend, but nonetheless the black helicopters fwp-fwp-fwpped their way into the public consciousness; having a fictional character go off on a rant about them was an accepted shorthand for establishing them as a conspiracy theorist, usually of a right-leaning persuasion.

Jim Keith, who never knew a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, was partly responsible for this, since he was one of the few who tried to pad out the trope into (slim) books on the subject. And I happen to have acquired some cheap second-hand copies. Let’s take a look.

Black Helicopters Over America: Strikeforce for the New World Order

This is a nostalgic sort of snapshot of the fallacies that American conspiracy theorists (mostly, but not exclusively, on the right) were pushing in the early-to-mid 1990s. Inspired, perhaps, by fuzzy recollections of the Soviet occupying forces in the 1987 TV miniseries Amerika using unmarked black helicopters to enforce their will on small town America, people in the “patriot movement” – a weird umbrella for hardline libertarians, Aryan Nation-type white nationalists, survivalists, and full-on esoteric oddballs like Bill Cooper – got terribly excited about the idea that such helicopters might be real and might, alongside masses of foreign troops smuggled onto American soil. be used to keep the US in line when the United Nations decided to establish a one-world government (the so-called New World Order).

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Mini-Review: Just Say No To the Waaaagh, Kids!

War of the Orks is the fourth and latest volume of Cavan Scott’s Warped Galaxies, part of the Warhammer Adventures series of Warhammer 40,000 novels for kids. The story so far: having picked up some navigational clues, the kids and their Rogue Trader friend Amity are now travelling around to try and figure out which of several candidates might be the “Emperor’s Seat” where Zelia’s mother said they’d rendezvous. Ruling out Terra (because surely she’d have just said “Holy Terra”), they decide to check out the world of Weald, in whose dense forests a group of Ultramarines carved a statue of the Emperor out of a mountain to commemorate a victory.

When they get there, they find no sign of Zealia’s mother and an absurd number of Orks – two groups of them, in fact, some of whom rely on naturalistic weapons leveraging the flora and fauna of the jungle and some of whom fiddle around with tech for optimised dakka. What follows is essentially an extended slapstick sequence, in which the various core cast bounce around and are alternatingly chased and captured by the different Ork tribes until they’re finally brought together.

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Though mostly known for the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, focusing on the Imperial Guard, and the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series, focusing on the Inquisition, Dan Abnett has occasionally written other standalone Warhammer 40,000 novels dealing with other aspects of the setting, such as Brothers of the Snake (Abnett’s meditation on the Space Marine concept through an invented Chapter of his own) and Titanicus.

Titanicus addresses the Titan Legions – the Adeptus Mechanicus forces who pilot enormous grimdark mecha on the battlefield against the giant robots of other forces like the Eldar, Orks and Chaos. The novel is set on Orestes, a planet jointly ruled by the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus (who are not actually part of the Imperium but are a separate human space empire in their own right with a long-held alliance with the Imperium). Orestes is a Forge World – one dedicated to the manufacturing of high-tech goods in generally, and specifically Titans – and since it provides various support services for the forces off fighting the Sabbat Worlds Crusade (the war front of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series) this makes it a tempting target for the forces of Chaos: take out Orestes, and you hamper the entire Crusade, and so the forces of the Dark Mechanicum invade – including terrifying Chaos Titans, refitted and warped to suit the needs of the Dark Gods.

With its local Titan Legion (the Legio Tempestus) depleted due to shipping so many of their forces off to the Crusade, Orestes is unable to face the Chaos Titans unleashed by the invaders on its own. As luck would have it, another Titan Legion – the Legio Invicta – is passing through on its way to join the Crusade, and is more than happy to lend a hand in return for an MOT and a tune-up for its Titans. Shit gets complicated when, as part of the process of trawling through ancient Mechanicus records to try and find schematics for the Chaos-hijacked Titans assaulting the planet, a historical nugget is uncovered which threatens to throw the relationship between the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus into disarray.

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Charting a Course For Gethen

For me to review The Left Hand of Darkness at this point in time would be futile; what else could be said about it? It won its Hugo and Nebula Awards for good reason – by positing the world of Gethen, a place whose otherwise human-like inhabitants have no inherent sexual dimorphism, instead entering the state of “kemmer” during their monthly cycle, at which point any individual could potentially end up expressing any reproductive role. (So, for instance, you could impregnate a friend one month and then fall pregnant the next.)

This wasn’t Le Guin’s initial seed idea for the book – she wanted to depict a world where war was unknown, which prompted her to posit all sorts of other social structures and shifts, and eventually she decided that the way to go was to depict a world where gender isn’t a thing and sexuality is not a hallmark of identity so much as an expression of what happens to float your boat this month.

The end result isn’t perfect, and she would admit as much – particularly taking onboard criticisms that she chose to use the term “he” for all the Gethen (though it does mean she could say stuff like “The King was pregnant” to shake up readers’ preconceptions) – but in the midst of the New Wave of Science Fiction it really helped open up the door for other authors to consider such subjects in an SF context (or to use SF as a basis for their porn, but eh, not everything has to be high philosophy).

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