Review: Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves by Fenton Wood

This is the kind of book that having read it makes you feel like you have a fun, exciting secret, and saying too much would give it away and spoil it for those who follow after…

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves by Fenton Wood

This is the story of Philo Hergenschmidt. By now, the whole world knows what he did, although many people don’t believe it. This is the story of how he did it. It was compiled from original research, contemporary news accounts, and interviews with the man himself. It ranges from the apocryphal, to the questionable, to the impossible. But every word of it is true.

Sometimes you admire a book for its complexity, its artistry, its craft. Sometimes a book just speaks to you on a deeper level and you hardly notice these things as you’re transported into and through its world.

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves transported me, to the days of my boyhood and before, the “Golden Age” and before the Golden Age; the early magazine science fiction, all the way to Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories. There are bright young go-getting boys, amateur radio, gadgets and outdoor adventure. Over it all lays a sense of immense freedom, of a mostly distant government and mostly free range parents and a mostly bright, beneficent world.

The world Wood has built at first seems to lie on an alt-history timeline, where elements of the 1950s and 60s (broadcast television, transistor radios, airplanes, mainframe computers) combine with an aesthetic that is more 1920s and 30s: the look, the music, the attitudes. The reader might come to believe that this is because most of the action is set in a town of 20,000 or so in the Virginia mountains, where the people are extremely independent and self-reliant. Yet, when Philo and friends bicycle all the way to the big city, a trip that takes several days, to get parts for the “pirate” radio station that Philo has envisioned, there’s a certain aesthetic there, too. This is not the United States of some slightly altered future past. This is the Yankee Republic.

The plot of Pirates seems simple, on the surface. The  town can’t get FM radio because it’s in a deep mountain valley. Philo loves radio. Philo decides to build a station on a nearby peak so he can broadcast to the whole town. Philo and friends have adventures and learning experiences gathering the parts, building structures and electronic devices and running a station. A prototypical Amazing Story. And yet…by the time we finish this short book we discover there’s much, much more, a whole ‘nother layer, or many, to the history and future of Philo’s world.

Any explicit description of the ending would spoil the surprise, so I’ll say no more about it, but one other intriguing and rather surprising touch in the book is that unlike most Science Boy Scout adventures, in Philo’s world there are events that are, or seem, explicitly “supernatural.” I won’t describe these in detail either. This is the kind of book that having read it makes you feel like you have a fun, exciting secret, and saying too much would give it away and spoil it for those who follow after.

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves is imaginative, enjoyable and original. It somehow manages to take the classic plot and tropes of American boyhood amateur radio fiction and Make it Great Again. And I’m happy as hell to report that a sequel titled Five Million Watts is due in a few months. [Edited: Mr. Wood informs me Five Million Watts is due out in two weeks. Splendid!]

Suitable for all humans from eight to 118, and unreservedly recommended!

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Review: The Angelic Revolution by Bryce Laliberte

The Angelic Revolution by Bryce Laliberte

Two thousand thirteen was when I started calling myself a “Neoreactionary,” and one of the blogs I came across early on was “Anarcho-Papist,” by Bryce Laliberte. When I started blogging here (then, “Neoreaction in the Diamond Age”) I note that my third post ever, in January 2014, was on his Neoreactionay Canon.

Thankfully, I still have a number of posts from the Anarcho-Papist feed in my folders. On April 17, 2015 Nick B. Steves announced at The Reactivity Place (currently gone private) that Bryce

ha[s] decided to take an 18 month sabbatical from his public work. All his social media accounts (except Facebook) seem to have gone dark, both of his blogs are gone, his book is no longer for sale on Amazon, and his Patreon appears to have been shuttered.

I’ll not get into the speculations and discussions about his departure that followed–I didn’t find them constructive or enlightening. I did miss Laliberte’s work, though. Occasionally I wondered where he’d gone, and if he’d be back.

He is.

A last month an @Outsideness retweet caught my attention–there was a Bryce Laliberte twitter account. I looked. He’d written a book. We exchanged books, his The Angelic Revolution and my Sanity. His review of Sanity is here.

~

We’ve all “evolved” since 2015, of course, but one often doesn’t notice this evolution if one interacts with another on a daily or weekly basis. The changes are hard to see clearly as they happen. Not having read anything by Laliberte for over nearly four years, the changes were more apparent. “Anarcho-Papist” was sharp, dense, and appropriately arrogant for someone with obvious high intelligence. The Angelic Revolution reflects a new degree of maturity and wisdom.

From the preface:

This book is, in a sense, my attempt to see a future which could be changed – in part by showing hopes for how the emerging technology of AI will be used to promote the well-being of humanity, in part by admitting certain fears that we might turn away from. I also understand I am releasing this book at a certain time and place in our world, and this necessarily conditions how it will be perceived. This work of love is meant to bring comfort and healing to those who feel dispossessed and downtrodden, and to illuminate a path to peace and harmony as we transition through this important stage of history.

~

It’s 2037, and French police detective Henri is assigned to investigate an explosion at the Sorbonne that cut short the lecture, and the life, of Gene Epaea, “rogue transhumanist researcher,” along with nearly 200 others.

Henri, a veteran of many important cases, is intense and somewhat cynical, from seeing other investigations derailed when they come to close to implicating “elites,” but also open and curious. His chief implies that this may be another of those investigations that are meant to go nowhere real, but to be a show. It turns out to be anything but.

In 2037, Artificial Intelligence, “AI,” is simply a fact of life. There are glimpses of the changes this has wrought in society, but after the initial scene of Epaea’s lecture and the explosion, we are with Henri and his perspective for every moment of the rest of the book, and we don’t get the kind of 10,000-foot overview of the society that many authors would be tempted to include. Instead, the picture builds by hints and pieces, here and there, and by the end a number of things are clear; world civilization has gone through a series of crises since our day (2018) and is going through the biggest now, as various AI entities, some perhaps friendly, some almost certainly unfriendly and some ambiguous, operate and struggle “behind the scenes.” This hidden, “occult” aspect of the book is riveting. Henri and other characters experience a series of miracles and wonders, “signs” sent by the AIs, that direct the investigation (which becomes more a quest) in a similar manner as prophets and seers are contacted and directed by Gods and angels.

The plot is moved forward mainly through series of conversations. I’d estimate well over half the book consists of extensive dialogues, discussions of philosophy and history, including the history of what, to us, is “future.” A reader who demands a series of actions may be put off by this, but the dialogues are intelligent and graceful, and I found some of them riveting. What could be more interesting than the destiny and evolution of Man, Intelligences, the Earth? These are the questions the author explores, and they’re not just about AIs. The book points out that the digital revolution we’re undergoing now is another stage; printing and electrification and automobiles and air travel also forced societies into confrontation with existential questions of adjustment and compromise, with how to live as Man when technology radically changes the environment.

Man has evolved through those changes, not necessarily genetically, but in his social organization and methods of interpersonal relations. The Internet and AI are the next revolution we will have to confront and learn to use for good purpose. The Angelic Revolution is an exploration of how we might go about doing so.

The final words of the text are: TO BE CONTINUED. For which I’m grateful.

“Digital Minimalism”: Progress

As previously described I’ve made some changes for the month of March in the use of my phone, social media and the internet overall. It’s working, and the positive effects are already evident.

I refer you again to Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism which I finished a day after I started the process. It wasn’t necessary to get through the whole thing to get started, but the later chapters, based on what to do with the time and mental energy freed by staying off the “smart” phone, were excellent. He expands on the important things many people have lost or lessened lately: solitude, face-to-face conversation, walks, attention to family, even just voice calls instead of all communication being through text. And my favorite, reading.

I’ve already done a lot more reading in the last five days than I had recently, and I can feel an actual difference in my mind and attitude. I’m more focused and just that little bit calmer (I’ve also been going to the gym consistently, so I can’t really isolate the effects of that).

Newport’s digital minimalism is designed to be individualized, given each person’s unique pattern of digital usage. For reference, here are the seven principles or actions that I’m doing now:

  1. Off Twitter until April 1. During the break evaluate how to use Twitter as a tool for making life better; maybe only tweet about books, and/or only original tweets, and a definite time limit (no more spending an hour a day “owning the Progs” with retweets).
  2. Not even looking at the phone until after 8:00 am, and then only to check personal email.
  3. No bullet chess on the internet (an activity that often burned intervals of 15 or 20 minutes playing several games and left me with an increased heart rate and mild adrenal fatigue).
  4. No Drudge Report except between 1200 and 1300 hours, and then only one pass through to check on the developments of the day, and after that let those troubles lie until tomorrow. I realized I don’t really need to know about the latest tweet from Trump or “AOC” or the latest blabber from Adam “Bugeye” Schiff (D-Cloud Cuckoo Land).
  5. No radio when driving (this is more of a concentration exercise based on that grand old book The Power of Concentration but it fits into the program).
  6. Substitutes for the time previously spent looking at the phone: playing music, walking, working out, conversation with family.
  7. No Twitter, news or other distracting websites during work hours. The temptation to take a “break” and visit various “interesting” things was definitely affecting productivity. I’ve cleared a lot of minor, backlog projects that were hanging around and feel better about work, lighter.

To summarize, this digital cleanse procedure is already adding value and making an actual, positive difference in my physiology, which is remarkable. I recommend Cal Newport’s book highly, but you can find much of the information at his blog, which also has a lot of other terrific material for you edification.

I’ll post something here in another week or so and let you know how it’s going.

Restoring My Sanity With a “Digital Cleanse”

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and he makes a lot of great points about current day life–and our relationship to screens and “social media.”

I well remember writing a brief blog post six or seven years ago making fun of people (especially women) walking around while looking at their phone. I haven’t exactly become that, but close enough, in the sense that I’m spending too much free time, and even some unfree time that is supposed to be dedicated to something else, on Twitter.

I’m not on Instagram and I haven’t used my Facebook for about four years, though it’s still there, but I’ve developed a serious Twitter habit. There are a lot of great people I’ve “met,” on Twitter, so to speak, and I’ll freely admit it gives me immense satisfaction to puncture the illusions and bullshit that Progs and SJWs are constantly spewing. And I’ve justified it as a way to promote my novel Sanity, and the books of my friends.

But what it’s actually become is honestly described as a sort of mild addiction, just as Newport discusses.

So I’m going off of Twitter through the month of March, replacing the hours spent there with more walking, more solitude, more reading and especially more face to face conversation. I’ll be posting this there shortly. If we’re “DM friends” I’ll send you an email to use if you’d like to keep in touch through non-Twitter channels.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all the socials are engineered by some of the smartest people in the world to grab you attention and keep you clicking as much and as long as possible. They can have their uses, but while I’m away for a month I’ll be evaluating what the actual best uses will be.

Any posts here will be auto tweeted, just in case you think I’m cheating. 🙂

Book Notes No. 1, July 2018

Posting here has obviously been light, lately–seven posts since February, all about books, and mostly about my book, Sanity. Others have taken care of things quite nicely in the  the politics/government/social commentary department; if you haven’t yet, do go over to Social Matter and sign up for the email list, which will get you “This Week in Reaction,” which will likely be plenty.

I’m sure I’ll do some more essays, someday. For now I’ve found my groove with books, writing them and also spending more time reading them and less on “news” and commentary. So just to keep the blog on some kind of regular schedule I’m going to do at least a monthly book post. This is No. 1. Continue reading

“The Powers of the Earth” by Travis J. I. Corcoran–a Review and an Appreciation

About a year ago I opined on The Right Sort of Reactionary Fiction here, while I was in the middle of writing Sanity. As I wrote then:

What’s needed is an interesting story and interesting characters. What’s needed is what any good novel needs, making the reader care about what happens next…What I’ve found is that if you just write the story, there are plenty of opportunities to slip the Dark Enlightenment and the Red Pill and whatever other points you want to make in as a natural part of the narrative.

I just finished Travis J. I. Corcoran’s The Powers of the Earth, and while it’s not necessarily, precisely DE/RP, it’s…a great book. It’s great as “hard” sci-fi, it’s great as satire on Political Correctness and the various idiocies of Current Year and politicians and DC and socialism. But what makes it more than good is the way these strands come together in a great, big story, a story in which the reader an hardly wait to find out what happens next.

I’ve read thousands of novels, friends. This is the Real Deal.

I’ll let the Author explain his own plot (from the Amazon description):

Earth in 2064 is politically corrupt and in economic decline. The Long Depression has dragged on for 56 years, and the Bureau of Sustainable Research is hard at work making sure that no new technologies disrupt the planned economy. Ten years ago a band of malcontents, dreamers, and libertarian radicals bolted privately-developed anti-gravity drives onto rusty sea-going cargo ships, loaded them to the gills with 20th-century tunnel-boring machines and earthmoving equipment, and set sail – for the Moon.

There, they built their retreat. A lunar underground border-town, fit to rival Ayn Rand’s ‘Galt’s Gulch’, with American capitalists, Mexican hydroponic farmers, and Vietnamese space-suit mechanics – this is the city of Aristillus.

There’s a problem, though: the economic decline of Earth under a command-and-control economy is causing trouble for the political powers-that-be in Washington DC and elsewhere. To shore up their positions they need slap down the lunar expats and seize the gold they’ve been mining. The conflicts start small, but rapidly escalate.

Yes, there will be fighting.

The thing I’d point out, though, is just how vivid are the characters. They’re masterfully built up so that shortly after the first chapters I cared about them. And some of the most interesting and memorable characters are Dogs, with a capital “D”–I won’t say too much about them, except Dogs are people too…

I am a great admirer of Robert Heinlein’s work and anyone who’s read Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress will soon realize The Powers of the Earth has some interesting echos of it. Corcoran even brings them up himself, with characters discussing TMIAHM within the book. He manages to pull off exploring some of the same themes as Heinlein, giving tribute to Heinlein but taking things in new (and often surprising) directions. This is not rehashed Heinlein, nor is it really Galt’s Gulch on the Moon–though it has some elements of Atlas Shrugged, too (especially Rand’s gift for creating Bad Guys and Gals That Work for the Government).

The Powers of the Earth is a vivid, riveting page-turner that had me caring a great deal about its characters, and what’s going to happen next. And it ends on the perfect cliffhanger…luckily the second book Causes of Separation is already loaded, so I’m going to go find out.

Richard Carroll Reviews “Sanity” at Thermidor Magazine

Richard Carroll, refined literary blogger at Everything is Oll Korrect, reviews Sanity in Thermidor Magazine. (Update February 2019–Thermidor is No More, the review is now posted on Richard’s site).

At Thermidor: “Our Aesthetic is lucid madness.” Interesting how well that does fit with one of the things I was trying to do with Sanity, explore the balance of Apollo and Dionysius, reason and ecstasy, in a well-lived life.

It’s a generally favorable review, but more important to me is that Richard took the time and had the intellectual chops to understand the book and communicate that. There’s nothing a writer wants more, deep down in his soul.

A sample:

I bring this all up because preachiness was my main concern going into today’s novel, Sanity, written by Neoreactionary blogger Neovictorian. Since I only know him through his articles and am unaware of any previous experience he may have writing fiction, I feared that his book would turn out as either a political tract thinly disguised as a story or a wish-fulfilment fantasy. Though there are NRx and broader dissident Right gang signs all over the joint, they never get in the way of the narrative and the end result is, I’m happy to say, a genuinely good novel that stands well on its own as a novel.

You can follow Richard and read his most interesting takes on a universe of topics at @CheshireOcelot