Sunday, April 21, 2024

How to Become a Modern Magus by Don Webb

So, way back when I first sparked an interest in Western esoteric traditions, I cut my teeth on Aleister Crowley (might as well jump in the deep end, amiright?) way back in the early 2000s and also the Donald Michael Kraig classic Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, which would be interesting to revisit now years later. Lately, I've become a huge fan of the writings of Don Webb, who not only is a fantastic author of weird fiction, but his writings on more esoteric subjects take an approach that appeals to me. He is both wise and funny (a rare combination), and is in possession of a vast cornucopia of knowledge that makes me wonder if he doesn't have a clone helping him parse all that information. I've learnt much from him over the years, and have enjoyed such titles of his as The Mysteries of the Temple of Set and Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law. Don brings to the table a healthy dollop of common sense with plenty of the strange in a way that inspires seekers of the mysteries to engage in magical play. When I went through a period of magical stagnation a few years ago, it was Don's writing, in conjunction with a timely reading of my friend Ramsey Dukes' Ssotbme Revised – An Essay on Magic, that rekindled my puckish delight in all things magical.

In any case, I can most likely gush on endlessly, so let me rather get to the point of this review. With all the literature on the topic that's out there, with more traditions and luminary figures in the esoteric world than you can shake a wand at, what I truly appreciate about Don Webb and his writing is that he's so gosh darned accessible and approachable. But whether you meet him in person, communicate via email, or open one of his works, I get the idea that he's big on communicating clearly, with a healthy side order of mischief that will shake you out of your comfort zone. I approve of mischief. It causes you to look at the world slantwise, which is perhaps a much-needed skill these days.

I'm approaching Don Webb's How to Become a Modern Magus from the perspective of someone who's spent years reading a pile of literature. I consider myself quite au fait with many of the approaches and concepts, and I'm glad to say that for me How to Become a Modern Magus succeeded in making me reconsider many of the core concepts of the Western esoteric systems from a fresh perspective.

Don combines his own experiences (and those of people he's encountered) with the knowledge that he's garnered over the years in a book that's not only a fascinating read to gain an appreciation of the work of a modern magician, but he also pulls together a wonderful structured curriculum that will benefit those who are new, as well as those for whom this is not their first rodeo. If you're comfortable in your own practise, it can be useful to follow a 'how to' course that may well highlight areas in your own life that require some honest self-reflection and work. Shake things up. Dance to a slightly different tune from what you're accustomed to.

In this book, you'll most certainly be challenged to step outside of your comfort zone, to not only consider discrete aspects of Self and how they relate to concepts such as the Elements (earth, air, fire, water) but also be presented with core concepts of ritual work, while also engaging in the kind of magical thinking that Ramsey Dukes so delights in (those of you who're au fait with Dukes' tone will be on familiar turf).

When I did my first read through How to Become a Modern Magus, I found myself highlighting so many little paragraphs that are worth a second look – but it's beyond the scope of this review to reproduce them all. You'll really need to go look/see for the ones that resonate with you. What I do take away, even as I work through the book month by month now, is that this is about getting to know aspects of your Self; it's about discovering what it is you truly want; it's about engaging with Mystery; and it's about projecting your Long Desire out into the world and figuring out how to take those steps that will bring you to what you want. As in what you truly Desire. (Thank you, Lucifer... IYKYK.)

Okay, so that's my paltry attempt to try to encapsulate this book in a nutshell. I don't think it's possible, actually, since everyone who does embark on the journey of working through this book is going to have a very different, individual experience. Honestly, this title has come at a good time for me when I've wanted suggested periods of focus on different aspects of Self – a magical boot camp, as it were. And whether you're a rank beginner or a seasoned practitioner, if you engage with this book sincerely, you're in for quite a journey.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

So, really, how ARE things going?

Last year I decided that making monthly newsletters is incredibly stressful. Besides, who reads the things anyway? I know my inbox is where countless newsletters come to die. So, if you're reading this, the algorithm gods have been kind to me, and thank you for your eyeballs.

I would make personal blog posts more often, but truthfully, I've been running around like a chickenless head chasing after those deadlines that so love whooshing by if given half a chance. And my other resolution: do these self-promo posts only when I have the spoons. Not that I ever have enough spoons, but today I've rinsed off a few and I'm stirring.

What's been happening, you say? Well, lots.

In terms of graphic design, my one big client is keeping me on my toes, and while I do occasionally take on smaller layout/design jobs, this is not something I go out of my way looking for. I'm grateful for this work, as it keeps the lights on so that I can engage in what I LOVE doing, which is writing, editing, and coaching. 

The writing front is ticking along. I've got some short fiction out on sub, and I'm currently working on a bit of short fiction for a creative collective, which is really exciting. More on that later once I've got something concrete to share. What I can say is that I'm really excited to be part of this initiative. I've got a chapter appearing in Afro-Centered Futurisms in Our Speculative Fiction coming out via Bloomsbury later this year, which is Pretty Darned Big for me. I'm so excited to be part of this important work.

Things have been quiet, for the most, since Toby and I are still working hard on our five-book series, The Splintered Fool, of which book 1, The Serpent's Quest, is now in its final production stages. I won't lie, it's a PILE of work, but I promise you, once those books start coming, you'll be in for a swashbuckling swords-and-sandals epic full of derring-do, sassy characters, and cosmic horrors. Book one is tentatively releasing in May. I say tentatively, because life.

But I do have some news. If you've been following me on social media, you may have seen that my novella The Princess Job quietly released recently. It's a little nod to my love of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards Sequence, so if you're looking for a short read that promises a little fun skullduggery, then this might be for you. It's free to read on KU.

And if dark SFF short fiction is your thing, I finally finished the most recent selection of the SA Horrorfest's Bloody Parchment anthology, Weeping Walls and Other Stories. Do pick up a copy and make me a happy editor.

Other than that, I'm knee deep writing on a super secret ghostwriting project. It's keeping my lights on, and it's a project with huge scope that's both challenging and deeply fascinating. I can't wait to share when this goes live, but as I often tell the writers I work with: butt on chair, fingers on keyboard.

So, that's it. For now. If you're on Threads, do come find me there. Although I do post updates on Xitter, the real chatty stuff is happening on Threads and also Blue Sky, to an extent. And if you've read this far, pop me an email and I'll bless you with a ecopy of The Princess Job if you're willing to do me a solid by reviewing it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Author Spotlight on Erhu Kome

The delightful Erhu Kome has stopped by my blog for a short Q&A.

Many of us as writers have that defining moment when they realised that this is the thing you want to do. What was your moment?

My second year in uni. I was studying a course I didn't like. My mind was completely gone from it. When I wrote my first collection of short stories, it was the most satisfying and joyful thing I ever did.

You're stuck in an elevator with me and you've got 15 seconds to tell me about your book – go!

The Smoke That Thunders is young adult fantasy novel about a girl whose life is changed forever after she meets a magical red fox.

What are the three defining works of fiction that you feel people should read if they want to understand you better?

The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and any book written by Agatha Christie, lol.

What are some of the themes that are prevalent in your writing?

Family, Courage, Friendship and Love

Why does storytelling matter?

To me, storytelling matters as I am able to share the history, mythology and culture of my people, the Urhobo people, to people who have never heard of us. 

Storytelling matters because it brings the world to people wherever they are. I didn't have to move from my hometown to see other parts of the world and to know its people. Storytelling matters especially to kids to engage their imagination, improve their vocabulary and entertain them in a way no other medium can.

Who is Erhu when you are not writing? Tell us a little bit more about what you do in your spare time and what some of your other interests are.

I'm a mom of two so Mommying is technically my main job, lol. I use my spare time to do my writing and I read in between. My kindle has been a game changer because my daughter likes to tear out pages of any book I'm reading. I also watch a lot of anime. I just finished the first season of Solo Leveling and I loved every second of it. I also like trying out new foods and working on DIY home projects.

Author bio:

Erhu Kome writes stories centered around her Urhobo tribal roots, with a mix of myth and magic. She is the author of
The Smoke That Thunders and Not Seeing Is A Flower, a novella shortlisted for the Nommo awards. She is an Anime enthusiast with a soft spot for any tv show or movie that will make her laugh. You can follow her on Instagram and TikTok @erhukome .

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Fate Inked in Blood (Saga of the Unfated #1) by Danielle L Jensen

I won't lie, a pretty cover catches my eye, and it was the lovely illustration by Portuguese artist Eleonor Piteira that made me read the blurb then request A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle L Jensen off NetGalley. As some of you already know, I'm a huge fan of Scandinavian-inspired yarns, and there does rather seem to be a rash of them lately. Depending on how much research an author has bothered to do or if they've just watched one too many episode of Vikings or The Last Kingdom, savvy readers can quickly tell. I suspect Jensen falls firmly in the latter category, however.

I'd cast A Fate Inked in Blood firmly in the romantasy genre, so if 'icky girl stuff' isn't your jam, then this is probably not the novel for you. Me, I'm quite happy with the romance, provided it doesn't derail the plot, and Jensen does strike a fair balance between the two that kept those pages turning.

The plot is pretty standard, compared to many that I've seen. We meet Freya, who's married to a fisherman who's got divine blood. He's kinda a celeb in their village, his magic responsible for bringing in good catches. The catch? He's Not A Very Nice Man. Of course, we meet Bjorn very early on, and he is A Very Nice Man. Too bad that when Freya's husband is out of the picture, she has to get married to someone else who isn't Bjorn, but his daddy. Of course, Freya, who's been pretty disenchanted with her initial lot as fishwife, is not particularly charmed with being treated like chattel when all she's ever wanted to be is a renowned shield maiden. Everyone else seems to know what's best for her, however. And she's in a situation where she can't say no.

But there's more. It seems that Freya's pretty special herself, for she, too, has a drop of divine blood about her – the kind that would make her a rather good shield maiden. Also, she's wrapped up in a prophecy, which makes things even more complicated, because now there's a bunch of ambitious men who are making grabby fingers at her.

Anyhow, it's not this review's purpose to retell the entire book. For what it is, this isn't a bad little story, and if you're looking for a bunch of romantic tension, this book has it by the bucketloads. As a reader, I do wish there'd been a bit more attention to detail in terms of world building. I guess if you've watched Vikings, it's going to be easy for you to visualise stuff – but I did feel the environment was a bit white-roomy and could have used a smidge more fleshing out. The story does get off on a strong start, but it starts dithering a little and then rushes to wrap stuff up before ending on a cliffie. What did work for me was the Freya-Bjorn dynamic – they seem well suited to each other, and as characters, complement each other well. If you're hooked by book one, I expect you're in for quite a wild ride with glorious battles, intrigue, and wild magic, all liberally dosed with Norse flavour.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Among the stars with author Caldon Mull

African speculative fiction author Caldon Mull has touched down for a little Q&A to share a bit about his recently released Preacherman, which is book four of his Sol Senate Cycle. 

Can you tell me more about the story seed that sparked off this series?

The story seed is based around an initial inspiration from something I had read at University by Arthur Keppel Jones a long time ago, which was essentially a future projection. I already had written South African-flavoured SF shorts and novellas by then, but I didn’t have an underlying archetype. So I worked on that for a few decades until the ‘Diaspora’ section is the last, furthest point in this journey. I've always liked an outsider POV character, just enough to provide some friction between the reader and the character for those 'ag siestog' moments.

I think it is better to think of the series as linked standalone books or a 'braided' set, that focus on telling the story of an ordinary person going about their lives, when the story happens. I have always used allegory to tell stories and so Preacherman is as much a story of a young immigrant and his family making good. Skills in being able to see the value of disused goods and opportunities in business as an outsider, or maybe being able to bring fresh investment capital into stagnant markets.

Rama’s journey has elements of tragedy, opportunity, frustration, family and sexual complications as much as any present-day immigrant. ‘Diaspora’ allowed me to focus on specific ‘Mundane Science Fiction’ genre stories like these, yet being able to tell those stories from an entirely different perspective. Preacherman is the latest in this Storytelling project, keeping it firmly in the Speculative Fiction realm.

To keep the element of the MSF genre, all the titles follow a counting game list of professions like ‘Rich man, Poor man, Beggarman, Thief…’ but each one, obviously looks very different from expectations.

All of us have our favourite authors who set them on their path – who are your literary luminaries and how have they inspired you?

I have a long list, but here goes. JRR Tolkien always near the top, beautiful writing that always inspires a sense of hope. John Brunner and AE van Vogt were all about the big ideas. Van Vogt’s writing mechanics of dream-wake-write is a technique I use relentlessly (for better or for worse, to be sure). Philip K Dick for his kaleidoscopic social commentary. Ursula K Le Guin, Geoff Ryman, Nick Wood, Andre Norton, Storm Constantine, Clifford Simak, Samuel R Delany, Tanith Lee and Gene Wolf all for beautiful moments, excellent prose and the novum of their words. Roger Zelazny, Thomas M. Disch… must stop now! I read voraciously for decades.

In a nutshell, tell us about some of the themes in your series and what readers can expect when they pick up book one.

Diaspora picks up on Humanity pushing out through Space as hard as it can, as far as it can, and where cracks can appear. Weatherman tells the story of the Cyber-enhanced Esteban on Mars in the mid-23rd Century who gets asked by his boss for some extra-curriculum work. The theme here is between tools and their makers, and which view of a culture has more merit. There are self-actualization underlying themes. 

Ferryman tells the story of Tick-tock, the Digital Twin of a San that has been uplifted to the Dwarf Planet Sedna to provide a very specific duty. The tool/maker theme continues, but the more his mind strays from his tasks, the less things make sense. The theme of the human ability to upskill and adapt, and to make sense of change are explored. There are self-awareness underlying themes. 

Poliismxn tells the story of Sancha who has gets slapped with Jury Duty to investigate the corruption of the ruling Council. The theme here is around how humans invariably use better tools and better methods for the same base ends. On the surface everything looks like a Utopia, but Sancha is forced to expose the rot and deal with it. There are self-doubt underlying themes.

Preacherman picks up on the running theme but does centre ‘cultural amnesia’ where society tends to distract itself from what is really important to survive and quickly falls into the same well-worn potentially disastrous comfort rituals. There are self-acceptance underlying themes.

Have you had any incidents on your path as an author that have confirmed this as a calling for you? If the internet had to vanish overnight and civilisation ended, would you still tell stories?

I think so. My physical career has been linking people and things like your ATM systems, and your online banks and your cell phone towers, I’ve travelled to many rural places all over the world listening to local people’s stories, telling my own and looking at what that synthesis would look like. Some of my early stories are handwritten letters posted to myself from the middle of nowhere, where months later I would get home to recompile them and figure out what I was saying then. I think stories are important to tell, even ugly and cautionary ones. However you can, no matter what.

Who are you when you're not writing? Tell us about the things you do beyond the written word.

Eish. I think that I’m a very different person when I’m not writing or working. I’m socially awkward and blunt outside of a social structure, so my casual acquaintance can be a bit much for many people. I like being physically and mentally active. I have Protea Colours for Mind Sports, was a MTN Trivial Pursuit National Champion for years, and I like classic cars and Regulation Rally. I did a lot of outreach work for the underprivileged in various organisations for years while I was in South Africa, as well as a lot of role playing convention work for ICON and GENCON through many universities. I like social rituals like a weekly pub meeting with a group of people at a local place, or people-watching while I’m mentally processing something. I think that once I can understand every living being on the planet, then I can die happy.

You've got fifteen seconds to tell your favourite film director about your series – how are you going to sell the idea to them?

Wow! Okay, think Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ in Space… with androids and cyborgs and polysexual post-human relationships in alien vistas. Make it smutty with ordinary people from these places and throw in some cringe as they figure things out. Please collaborate with Ridley Scott on cinematics. #hotandroisabs, #weirdaliens, #astoundingplaces, #establishmentblues.

See Caldon Mull's books over at Amazon.