Tag Archive: books


The Cult of Alien Gods: HP Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture (2005)

By Jason Colavito

Rating: 6/10

Overall, this book was an interesting look at the history of HPL, his influences, and the descendants of his works.  The author basically argues that since HPL invented the “alien-astronauts give birth to human civilizations” in his fiction, others took this idea and ran with it as non-fiction, influencing millions of people’s beliefs that humans, in fact, did have our cultural heritage influenced by visitors from outer space.  Colavito argues that since the initial non-fiction proponents of this idea read (and were therefore inevitably influenced by) HPL, the “gentlemen from Providence” unwittingly planted the seeds of alien-genesis that would germinate in the minds of dupes and non-critical thinkers down through the decades.

For me, I’m more interested in reading some of HPL’s influences and comparing his stories to the late 19th century authors he read and found inspiration from.  A more detailed outline of the book follows.

I.  HPL influenced by:

a)      Lord Tennyson Poem: “Kraken” [1830] (big ancient thing dreaming under the ocean)

b)      Ignatius Donnelly: Atlantis: “The Antediluvian World” [1882] (ancient mysteries, cross-cultural comparisons, similarities are the work from those Outside since the native not intellectually capable of advanced culture).

  • Archeological ruins being discovered by amateurs and wild theories abound during the late 19th century
  • Though HPL rejected this pseudoscience, he borrowed heavily from the imagery of Atlantis (for Call of Cthuluhu) and how it spawned later civilizations

c)      Helena Blavatsky “The Secret Doctrine” [1888] (channeled an ancient book older than man itself “Book of Dyzan”)

d)      Arthur Machen: “Great God Pan” [1890] and “Three Imposters” [1895] (strange things survived from Man’s earliest days)

e)      Lord Dunsany’s: “Pegana” [1905] (gods and demons interacting with humans)

f)       Poe: dark, gothic style

g)      Charles Fort: “Book of the Damned”[1919] (beings from space may have colonized the earth and humans)

h)      James Churchward: “Mu, the Motherland of Man” [1926] (another sunken continent whose only traces are standing stones in the Pacific Islands)

II. HPL Cthulhu Mythos:

a)      Cosmos populated by strange and powerful beings who were nonetheless subject to natural law (being a scientific materialist who didn’t believe in the supernatural)

b)      Hierarchy

  • Azathoth (Center of the cosmos- ‘demon sultan’ and ‘nuclear chaos’)
  • Old Ones surrounded the Lord of All
  •   Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep (soul and messanger); sometimes humanoid w/a thousand faces
  •   Yog Sothoth (connected the universes together); All-in-one and one-in-all
  •   Shub-Niggurath; black goat of the woods with a thousand young
  •   Cthulu- High priest of the old ones, trapped under the seas until ‘the stars were right’
  •    Tsathoggua- alien toad entity
  •    Under them were the various alien races who visited earth
  •       Mi-Go (Fungi from Yuggoth)- 9th planet from the sun (before Pluto was discovered); stalked backwoods to steal brains using metal cylinders

c)      Ultimately, aliens came down from the stars, ancient societies mistook them for gods (inspiring the first religions), and they promised to return; their evidence is in the anomalous ancient art and architecture.  All of these together were unique to HPL (elements from his predecessors rolled into one mythology).

III. The spread of the ancient-astronaut theory and pseudoscience:

a)      The Lovecraftian circle grew and HPL wrote for others to supplement his income, often intertwining each others’ works; even Blavatsky’s Book of Dyzan was included.  Though HPL didn’t believe in the pseudoscience works, he felt by mixing ‘real world’ books with his own creations would create an air of deeper fiction.

b)      During the 1930s, HPL, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard were prolific writers in Weird Tales, an interchanged each others’ concepts.

c)      After HPL died (1937) August Derleth took up the mantle of keeping HPL’s legacy alive, though somewhat controversially.  He wrote many stories, attributing “collaboration” with HPL even though little (if any existed). Derleth also injected a Judeo-Christiain good vs. evil dichotomy into HPL where none had existed before.

  • He also created his own publishing house to promote HPL, and sent many copies of the pulp overseas to the servicemen of WWII. (Eventually found its way into France)

d)      1940s: UFO craze with new technology, the threat of Communism, and the cinema with ‘alien invader’ movies (often as an analogy for the Red Terror).

  • The US Government used the UFO craze to cover up their top-secret testing of aircraft

e)      1950s: though UFOs/aliens became mainstream (and discredited), and small minority continued to believe an began recounting alien encounters

  • Many of these abductions were inspired by on-screen events

f)       1960s: Twilight Zone and Outer Limits big successes on TV

  • France still recovering from losing its “Great Power” role, and had already embraced HPL (introduced via US troops) in earlier decades. The French took his philosophies a bit more seriously

i.     Two Frenchmen, Louis Pauwles and Jacuqes Bergier (owners of the influential journal Planéte), published a book (Dawn of Magic) that revived an interest in the occult and introduced the philosophy/POV of “fantastic realism” (a new way of looking at the world thus revealing a new reality).  Ultimately, it speculated that aliens may have been responsible for the rise of humans and our culture (a concept invented by HPL).

ii.     This work drew heavily on Donnelly and Fort, asserting that the positivism of archeology could never get the explanation of the past correct

iii.     Also discussed HPL alongside Einstein and Jung

g)      1970s: In turn, Robert Charroux expanded on the alien-astronaut theme, writing several books (eventually appearing in the US)

h)      Erich von Daniken (Swiss) read Charroux’s books, embezzled funds to travel the world in search of archeological sites, and wrote Chariots of the Gods? And sold 6.5 million copies in the US and 60 million world-wide!

  • The media (TV, talk shows, etc.) spread the word, and people began believing in it.  Scientists refuted it, but their protestation fell on deaf ears.
  • It spoke in “may have beens” and “perhaps” so didn’t really say anything definitive. It ridiculed the establishment, academia, and relevant authorities which struck a chord with the US audience of the 1970s.
  • His follow-up book even quotes extensively from the Book of Dzyan (and admits in his intro that he is no scholar).

i)       1976

  • Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery

i.     Frog people from the star Sirius gave civilization to mankind around 5000 BCE, and the government was persecuting him for revealing this secret

  • Though debunked, the book seemed scholarly b/c of footnotes, complexity, and length
  • Zecharia Sitchin’s The Twelfth Planet

i.     Claimed to be the only one able to “correctly” translate Sumerian, and says they show how aliens called Annunaki visited earth and created humans to mine gold for them.

ii.     Brought the study of our past to the masses; gave lectures and certificates out if you attended

  • Viking probe records the ‘face on Mars’
  • L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of HPL brings him back for good
  • Claude Vorilhon begins the Raëlian Revolution

j)       1990s (resurgence in the unexplainable and alternative archeology)

  • 1995- Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods; something in human’s past was amiss, but dumped aliens in favor of  a lost civilization (respected journalist, good writer)
  • 1996- put aliens back in the equation
  • Overall a backlash against the establishment—trying to democratize the study of our past (Internet allowed like-minded people to shelter together)
  • Many of the works in the 1990s relied on the “authority” of earlier works from  1976 especially.

k)      Raëlians- a religion synthesizing Daniken’s appeal to mysterious past with Sitchin’s quasi-religious evocation of the aliens’ return.

  • Even began fundraising for human cloning…and Brigitte Boiselier claimed success (though no proof ever presented) (Clonaid lab in WV). The FDA and US gov’t stepped in and raided the lab (though they never disclosed how far Clonaid got in their research).

i.     This announcement also ignited a global debate about the ethics of human cloning

IV. Colavito’s Conclusions:

a)      Alien-astronaut theories are filled with circular logic and evidence being made to fit their desired “hypotheses”

b)      Our education system produces non-critical dupes who are susceptible to outlandish claims

c)      The rebuttals of fantastic theories never get the same amount of press.

d)      Our modern age, where old religion has been abandoned, has sought a new creation myth, and alien-genesis is a substitute.

V. Interesting tidbits:

  1. The movie Alien (1979) has been said to evoke the atmosphere of HPL, specifically his story At the Mountains of Madness.  Alien was based on the film The Thing from Another World (1951) which in turn was based on the story Who Goes There? (by John Campbell in 1938).  Many argue that Campbell rewrote HPL’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936), thus coming full circle.
  2. HPL flirted with converting to Islam in his youth, and briefly went by the name Abdul Alhazred after reading 1001 Arabian Nights.  Of course, later in his writing career, HPL would name the “mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” as the author of the dreaded Necronomicon.  

 

H.R. Giger's version of the Necronomicon.

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Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011)

By Dr. Michio Kaku

Rating: 8/10

The author engages in a fascinating (and sometimes freaky) exercise in extrapolation from current cutting-edge technologies.  Dr. Kaku interviewed some 300 scientists around the world who are pushing the boundaries of their fields, and then predicts what this groundwork will lead to over the next 90 years.  Dr. Kaku argues that “following the science” makes sense when prognosticating our future since science and technology has been the guiding forces of civilization for millenia.

He investigates the futures of eight areas of development (remember, all of this already has groundwork laid right now):

1. Computers– eventually we’ll control them with direct electronic signals from our brains.  Heck, they’ll be such a ubiquitous commodity that they’ll literally be everywhere: in our clothes, in our houses, heck, we won’t even have computers as we know them today because we’ll simply be online all the time via contact lenses.

This author admits that this artistic rendition might be a slight exaggeration.

2. AI– the Hollywood version of the “rise of the machines” is unlikely (at least, in a single-apocalyptic event sort of way).  Rather, since coding always needs to be done by humans (he doesn’t entertain the idea that an AI can write new code for itself), and since computers lack “common sense” (the sole-providence of human beings), it’s more likely we’ll simply merge with machines via cybernetics to improve our own bodies.  Computers won’t become as “smart” as humans for a long while since “intelligence” includes things like pattern recognition and other complicated processes that computers simply are not that good at.  But they’ll take over driving and other mundane tasks that we won’t have to bother with anymore.

3. Medicine– constant monitoring by ubiquitous sensors will allow us to nip diseases in the bud.  We’ll soon have medical scanners like they do in Star Trek, and invasive operations will be a thing of the past.  Further, by decoding various DNA (including ours), we’ll be able to resurrect extinct lifeforms, manipulate genes (to prevent diseases), design our children (!), and, of course, create weapons of horrendous lethality through the manipulation of genetic material.  Or we might be able to live forever… (see below).

4. Nanotechnology– going beyond mere molecules, we’ll be able to further manipulate individual atoms and create things seemingly out of nothing.  Once the “replicator” is built, no one in the world will want for anything–we’ll truly have become masters of the planet.  Tiny robots will help keep our bodies clear of contagion, and can even help keep us young, extending our life expectancy by ten times its current length.  (See where this is going yet?)

5. Energy– Oil will give way to a solar and hydrogen economy (the former being inherently unsustainable).  Also, moving in this direction will allow us to address global warming which the burning of  fossil fuels is exacerbating.  Fusion power will also be a possibility, but the end goal is the ‘age of magnetism’ run by superconductors. Or we might collect solar power more efficiently from space, and beam it down to power the Earth.

6. Space Travel– Due to prohibitive costs, we’ll probably only get as far as Mars and the asteroid belt with manned-spaceflight.  Though we might try to build a colony there (or on the moon) to allow further exploration.  (Getting out of the Earth’s atmosphere using chemical rockets is what makes space explorations so expensive. If we can start outside that atmosphere, costs drop exponentially).  We might even have a space elevator (made of carbon nanotubes) to get us up to a space station or beyond.

7. Wealth– As the nature of technology changes, so will the jobs and wealth (i.e. capitalism) that it creates.  If we can eliminate the scarcity of commodities, than intellectual capitalism will rule the day.  The types of jobs and fate of nations hangs in the balance, and the “winners” will be those who embrace scientific and technological progress.  We need to focus our brightest and best on science (especially the US which is now lagging behind), not finances in order to make the most out our potential as a species.

8. Humanity– While the energy consumption of the human race increases, we are moving toward a planetary civilization.  How we deal with the waste of that energy consumption will determine if we prosper of self-implode.  IF we’re able to control the entropy created by our energy needs through nanotechnology, room-temperature superconductors, and by becoming conservators of the natural world, we just might survive and cross the threshold to become a Type I civilization capable of indefinite self-sustainability.  If not, we’ll drown in the high tides of our own pollution and waste.

Overall Dr. Kaku is optimistic; he believes in humanity and its ability to make the right choices.  He does not deny dangers and obstacles on the road, but he believes we can overcome them.  His concluding “a day in the life of 2100” is a bit of a goofy mash-up of his predictions, but it’s a bit entertaining nonetheless.  This work seems mightily important, if only to understand how far our progression in science and technology has come, and some critical thinking about where it will take us.

 

Favorite quotes:

” The key to a democracy is an educated, informed electorate that can rationally and dispassionately discuss the issues of the day.” (p.351)

“From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, perfection meant wisdom rooted in experience and in the relationships by which the moral life is learned through example.  Our perfection lies not in gene enhancement, but in the enhancement of character. -Steven Post” (p.353)

“The Roots of Violence:

Wealth without work,

Pleasure without conscience,

Knowledge without character,

Commerce without morality,

Science without humanity,

Worship without sacrifice,

Politics without principles.

-Mahatma Gandhi” (p.368)

So Borders is on the verge of being liquidated.  This has sparked some interesting conversations on a School of Information listserv I belong to, discussing the pros and cons of not only chain book stores vs. mom and pop shops, but the ebook vs. its old paper predecessor.

Full disclosure: I used to work at a Borders Outlet.  I prefer the tangibility of real paper books; in fact, I collect them.  But I think ebooks have their place (especially in terms of storage space!).  I think the demise of book stores is a horrible mistake.

But, why did this happen?  There may be a casual chain of events here, and I’ll lay it out as I see it (I haven’t done the research on this, so this is very much a gut-reaction).

First, there were the mom and pop stores.  They were cool, had character, and performed a great service in their neighborhoods.  But you probably didn’t get much of a discount. With no other options, c’est la vie.

Then some corporations wanted to get in on the action, and with the blessings of publishers, were able to distribute their books to a wider audience.  Due to mass production and carrying such a large stock, these chain stores were able to offer discounts and carry more titles than the mom and pop stores.  So, slowly, the chains pushed out the little guys because people do like buying things at a discount.  A few used book stores hung on (since this is really a form of discount store), but they were far and few between, and dependent on a local culture that provided enough demand to justify their existence.

Then the Internet exploded and Amazon began slapping retailers around with even better discounts and a potentially unlimited inventory.  And you could get it shipped right to your house; convenient, no?  Chain stores offered more discounts to be competitive, but continue to struggle.

Then the ebook and ereaders were created and those paper books become a series of 1’s and 0’s that could fit a whole library in a thing the size of a paperback.  And it allowed you to make notes, highlight, etc., just like a real book (and even some functionality like keyword searches that the old paper predecessors did not).  The ebooks gained popularity for this convenience and their price—people were not willing to pay much for a digital copy.

Then the publishers decided that they should be able to charge near (or more) the same amount for the old paper books.  They sued, and won.  So now people get to pay a higher price for those 1’s and 0’s.  And with handheld devices becoming ubiquitous, fewer people see the need for paper books, let alone their brick and mortar stores.

So here we arrive with one of the largest booksellers liquidating and another struggling to survive.  For those who live in the digital world, these losses are no big deal.  They probably feel they get the same experience of serendipitous discovery in a book store from their recommender systems online.  But bookstores also provided more than books. There a communal gathering place (for some), where book groups can get together.  Where authors can come and talk about their works.  Where kids can frolic in their kid section or hear stories during reading times.

Some think that the liquidation of big chains may make room for the small mom and pop shops to come back.  With Amazon and ebook readership on the rise, don’t hold your breath.

But I can’t help wondering if this points to larger trends at work.  (Yes, I’m aware there were management problems and some poor inventory-control issues, but that wound up mattering more in the face of these larger trends).  In a world where the digital age is supposed to make us more connected, many people isolate themselves from others.  “Social networking” is not the same as actual social interaction.  And our attention span continues to diminish; I’d dare say we’re down to 140 characters (the maximum length of a tweet).  Why else would even our lawmakers begin using Twitter to communicate with their constituents? Sure digital innovations have made our life more convenient (and in some cases, even better—GPS), but digital for digital’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Maybe it’s a sign that consumers are fed up with the mark up on mass produced items.  It happened to the music industry; other media formats can’t be far behind as evidenced by the trend to ebooks.  This is one trend that I have some sympathy for, especially if the artists themselves are advocating for it.  The greed and bottom-line tactics of big corporate producers and publishers could only push so far before there was some serious push-back (enabled by technological innovation).

In the end though, I think the general dwindling of paper books in favor of eformat is a sad thing. It seems to point to an “instant gratification” trend that doesn’t seem to coincide with sitting down and soaking in a good book.  Having supervised and observed many students of this generation, there does seem to be a certain lack of focus or attention on anything that lasts more than 10 minutes.  If this sounds like an old curmudgeon complaining about these young whippersnappers, so be it—that doesn’t necessarily make it inaccurate.

Then again, this is all just my gut reaction and I could totally be pulling this out of thin air, and yet these trends just feel wrong.