Sunday, 10 May 2015

Review: Dark Satanic by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Originally published in 1972 Dark Satanic is the first book in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Occult Tales series and the prequel to The Inheritor. Throughout her life Bradley was an incredibly prolific writer and is, of course, better known for both the Darkover and Avalon series. Given the sheer quantity of Bradley's written output, it should come as no surprise that some of her books lack in the quality department.

Anyone familiar with her wider work will be aware, Bradley published a great number of books and short stories that can best be described as 'fragments' or literary experiments, in which she was trialling new plot lines, developing characters and experimenting with new themes. Rather than retaining these fragments in a drawer, Bradley was happy to see them published - in later years most often inside one of her short story collections and anthologies. Yet, at times her ventures into new territory were published as stand-alone books or republished and marketed as sequels and / or prequels to other novels.  Dark Satanic belongs into the latter category.

Dark Satanic, Marion Zimmer Bradley 

The story unfolds in Manhatten where James Melford, a publisher, and his wife Barbara share an apartment with James's ageing mother (Mother Melford) and her friend, Dana, who temporarily stays with the Melfords while house hunting. 

Shortly before his untimely death, one of James's authors, Jock Cannon, visits James in his office at Blackcock Publishing in order to deter James from publishing Jock's recently completed expose on New York City's satanic subculture. As a result of researching  satanist circles, Jock is now subjected to intimidation and harassment by as yet unidentified forces, wishing to prevent the information in his book from becoming public. 

When Jock suddenly dies of a heart attack, James, still determined to publish his book, decides to investigate further. He remains unconvinced by Jock's warnings until James himself starts receiving threatening calls and unexpected late-night deliveries. 

Meanwhile, Barbara, who not only has a rather strained relationship with her mother-in-law but is also deeply uncomfortable with Dana's presence in the apartment, experiences strange goings-on, too. At first, she doubts her own sanity, but as the story unfolds, she becomes increasingly suspicious of Mother Melford, her confidante and their behaviour towards her. 

Admittedly, in Dark Satanic Bradley is not giving us her best. Quite the opposite. The spelling mistakes in my copy alone indicate the absence of any serious editing and suggest a turbo turnaround from initial manuscript to publication. The characters remain flat and abstract and the story seems to plot along, giving the impression that Bradley, whilst writing, forgot where she wanted to take the story. 

Following the introduction of Claire Moffat's and Colin MacLaren's characters, which assume the roles of dei ex machinae, Bradley moves on to plant the seed of the sequel, thereby not so subtly preparing her readers for further literary ventures into the worlds of good and evil, the forces of black and white magic, religious ceremonies and satanic rites. This is somewhat reminiscient of The Fall of Atlantis, 

The Fall of Atlantis, Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Atmospherically and thematically, the setting and subject matter of Dark Satanic evoke associations with Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, which was published in 1967. Rosemary's Baby became the best-selling horror novel of the 1960s and thanks to Polanski's adaptation of the book, which was released in 1968, it remained a trendsetter in the genre for years to come.

As a literary product, Dark Satanic can best be described as a gothic pulp, tapping superficially into Levin's market by ripping various elements off Rosemary's Baby. Considering the poor quality editing, I would not be surprised to find out that Bradley was under a very tight deadline when writing Dark Satanic and she made use of this to explore a rough idea for a new series. In later editions the book is marketed as the prequel to The Inheritor, which was published in 1984 and received overwhelmingly positive reviews. The success of The Inheritor undoubtedly boosted sales of Dark Satanic, resulting in its republication in 1988. 

All in all, Dark Satanic certainly deserves a place in any MZB fan collection, especially to satisfy the needs of the completist collector. All others are best advised to skip the book and read The Inheritor instead. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Cover Art by George Barr, Maren,Tim White, Darrell K. Sweet et al.

An eclectic selection of sci-fi and fantasy artists have created the covers for Marion Zimmer Bradley's books and anthologies.

The below is a selection of cover art for MZB's publications. The photos are taken from the paperback hardcovers. The entire pictures are available here, featuring works by George Barr, Tim White, David A. Cherry, Richard Hescox and Maren, whose actual name is Mariano Pérez Clemente. 

Whereever possible information on the cover artist and edition has been included. Sadly, the cover art the for The Forest House (MZB's Avalon Series) remains uncredited in the edition by Michael Joseph.

George Barr, Darkover Landfall

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Darkover Landfall - 1972
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.
This edition: 15th printing (first printing, December 1972)
Cover Art by George Barr
For a review of Darkover Landfall, please click here.

Summary and Review: Mind to Mind by Betty Shine

Mind to Mind is the first of several Betty Shine publications to be reviewed on this blog over the coming months. Originally released in 1989, with Mind to Mind, Betty aims to provide a broad overview of her work as a spiritual healer, medium and clairvoyant.

Mind to Mind by Betty Shine

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Cover Art for Marion Zimmer Bradley

Darkover Landfall Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Darkover Landfall - 1972
Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.
This edition: 15th printing (first printing, December 1972)
Cover Art by George Barr
Border Art by Richard Hescox
For a review of Darkover Landfall, please click here.

Snows of Darkover, Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith

Snows of Darkover
Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Cover Art: Tim White 
Publisher: Daw, 1994

The Ages of Chaos, Darkover Omnibus (Stormqueen and Hawkmistress) by Marion Zimmer Bradley photo courtesy of Clarice Asquith
Stormqueen & Hawkmistress (Darkover Omnibus)
Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Crime and Punishment

....or a Zero Tolerance Policy towards late returners:

Library Fines in Warren County, Vicksburg (Mississippi) Public Library

This was stuck to the inside cover of one of my latest paperback finds. 

I just love vintage paperbacks. You simply don't get the same amusement with a kindle.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

From one opinionated knitter to another: Revisiting Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac

Almost three years ago, I had Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac on loan from my local library. Had I written my review of the book at the time, it would probably have sounded very different from my assessment today. Frau Zimmermann - at least as far her Almanac is concerned - is certainly not aiming her designs at beginner knitters; and I would have described myself as one at the time. Consequently, when I first laid hands on Zimmermann's Almanac, I didn't find it too appealing. The patterns appeared somewhat tired and outdated; and her occasional digressions into anecdotes, though intriguing, distracted from the instructions. When it was time to return my borrowed copy to the library, I did so without attempting to retain any of the instructions for future projects. It seemed as if the Almanac had nothing on offer for me. 

Elizabeth Zimmermann

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Book Review of The Truth Vibrations by David Icke

The Truth Vibrations in Context

Including David's latest release (The Perception Deception) back in 2013, David Icke has authored a total of twenty books since 1983. The Truth Vibrations is the account of David's own spiritual awakening. It is preceded by two earlier works: 
It's a Tough Game, Son!,  published in 1983 and It Doesn't Have To Be Like This: Green Politics Explained, which was published in 1989 and provides an overview of his visions for an alternative political agenda during his tenure as a UK Green Party national spokesperson.

The publication of The Truth Vibrations in May 1991 led to David's infamous appearance on the Terry Wogan Show in April 1991, which in turn resulted in his portrayal as a messianic lunatic and subsequent years of public ridicule both on and off screen. 

From the mid 1980s and during the time of writing Truth Vibrations, David was privately starting to seek solutions for the management of his own medical condition (rheumatoid arthritis) in homeopathy and other forms of alternative treatment. At the time of publication, Icke was also still very much a mainstream celebrity on British TV, who had not long departed from the BBC in a row over having violated the broadcaster's impartiality charter. (David publicly criticised the introduction of the so-called Poll Tax.) Since leaving the broadcaster in 1990, Icke continued to pursue his career as a national speaker for the UK Green Party. All in all, David had a healthy public profile at the time. In the absence of such a media profile, none of the mainstream media would have paid the slightest bit of attention to The Truth Vibrations. The book and its author would have simply slipped through the net of the mainstream.

David Icke on the cover of The Truth Vibrations (edition: Acquarian Books / Harper Collins 1991)

The Truth Vibrations - Summary and Review

Summarising The Truth Vibrations is no easy feat. The book can best be described as a wild ride. I recommend two sittings to bring some order into Icke's literary chaos. There was obviously a lot going on in his mind and it would be fair to say that the absence of structured thought in Truth Vibrations is testament to Icke's inner turmoil. It is also clear that in the run-up to the book, David dedicated time to the investigation of a wide variety of subject areas. Truth Vibrations can clearly be seen as Icke's attempt to amalgamate the insights he gained from personal study. At the same time, the book is also an account of Icke's spiritual agenda. 

Truth Vibrations is partially autobiographical, partially an account of Icke's travels across the globe on a hunt for stones and crystals to unblock clogged up energy lines as well as a collection of psychic messages, which he has personally obtained with the help of a trusted circle of psychics and spiritually gifted friends and acquaintances. He also uses the psychic messages received to back-up theosophist teachings and insights borrowed from Eastern philosophy throughout the book.

The messages David receives, which he either interprets himself or with the help of connected individuals, deal with a variety of topics including karma, reincarnation, the significance of vibrations, chakras, leylines, standing stones and the systemic state of imbalance of both Earth's eco system and humanity in general.

At the time of writing, David is influenced - without ever acknowledging this in the text - by theosophist, perhaps anthroposophist teachings; and he applies these to how he views and makes sense of the world around him. It should come as no surprise that he considers the world around him ever more out of balance, endangered and entering a critical state. His ecological observations are complemented by his critique of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production in the latter part of the book. 

Here, David - quite outspokenly - criticises materialism, the rationale of ever-increasing output and profit under the capitalist mode of production as essentially incompatible with the requirements of a finite ecological system. His critique of capitalism comes quite late in the book. Nevertheless, it forms part of the more coherent parts of his narrative..  

David is less coherent in the preceding chapters, especially in his account of Earth's history. Notwithstanding this apparent lack of structure, his writing once again demonstrates a familiarity with and knowledge of theosophist teachings. For anyone interested in tracing the theosophist influences more closely, I recommend his account of mythical Atlantis, which can be found in chapter eight, which is titled Journey to Aquarius.

Remaining with the topic of mythology, the attentive reader cannot help but notice that David clearly consumed a lot of literature on religious mythology at the time; and I seem to detect a very strong desire on his part to rework such a narrative in Truth Vibrations. He does so by drawing his readers' attention to the commonalties in the imagery and narratives of key religious texts across cultural, geographic and historic divides.

Given that David was up to the publication of The Truth Vibrations in May 1991 still considered a mainstream celebrity, it should come as no surprise that large parts of the book are dedicated to Icke's own karmic anecdotes of past lives and long stretches of psychic messages that either involve him, his immediate family and friends or provide the reader with a justification for his latest adventures; i.e. travelling the globe in a mission to unblock leylines in Canada, just before heading off to a conference on Animal Rights in the U.S. as a representative of the UK Green Party.

In short, Icke's Truth Vibrations is an arduous read at times. David is trying to convey autobiographical anecdotes with psychic experiences, Eastern spiritualism, theosophical teachings, religious mythology and a critique of the capitalist mode of production. All this is rounded up with a call to action directed at all interested readers who wish to join him in the  quest to redress the globe's imbalance. Perhaps I should mention that the page count of my edition of Truth Vibrations totals 144 pages. David tried to convey an unmanageable amount of insights in the format of what can best be described as an extended essay. As a result, his message does not always come across clearly and he appears to be losing his thread. Nevertheless, in retrospect and especially in view of his later works, with Truth Vibrations David manages to introduce his readers to a wide variety of topics and broader themes, which he revisits in finer detail in a number of subsequent publications. Truth Vibrations not only introduces the reader to his own spiritual agenda, it also provides a fundamental overview of Icke’s future topics of investigation. Sadly, David does not provide any references to the sources that clearly inspired him and his narrative at the time. Contrary to the debate ensuing in the British mainstream media at the time of the book’s publication, which focussed largely on whether David was claiming to be the ‘Son of God’, I do not recall him claiming to be the 'Son of God' or the ‘Son of the Godhead' throughout the entire book. 

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