Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Review of Ontogenesis by Andy Lloyd

I asked Andy Lloyd, author of Dark Star: The Planet X Evidence, if he would review my novel Ontogenesis, and he very kindly provided this probing and erudite review:


My son, currently sitting his GCSEs, spotted this book on our dining room table, and said, "Oh, yeah, ontology, that's all to do with God, and our state of being - we've done something about that in R.E." Which showed that (a) studying for your public exams actually works and (b) my son knew significantly more about this than me. So, having read most of John Garvey's excellent novel by this point, I said, "Yeah, it is kind of like that, only way weirder, all to do with alien intervention, all that stuff." With a half-absent "Cool", my son moved on to something else, and I decided perhaps now was the time to look up what this title actually meant. It's relevant because, although this is 'just' a novel, in my opinion Ontogenesis is a deeply thought through work of metaphysical enquiry.

I'm not really sure my review is going to do it justice, because the philosophies underpinning the work were, at times, stretching my conceptual understanding. At one point, I wrote in my notes that the book was Cubist, in that it was using multiple vantage points to explore certain concepts and situations. Later in the book, it went multi-dimensional, like a game of 3D Tic-tac-toe, and the Cubist structure turned into something more akin to a Möbius strip.

So, let's get a bit academic here, before I try to engage this novel's narrative. My son was pretty accurate; ontology is indeed the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being. However, 'ontogenesis' has been defined as 'the development of an individual organism or anatomical or behavioural feature from the earliest stage to maturity'. Somehow, the author has brought both of these concepts into the book's 337 pages, amalgamating human evolutionary progress with New Age metaphysics, theology and Ufology - all pinned together by plenty of Socratic rhetorical debate. The contents may involve some heady stuff indeed, but the novel is coated by a chilled Californian vibe - rather in the style of Joe Satriani's guitar work; vigorously intellectual and creative, whilst remaining damn cool.

There's a political struggle woven into the work, too; a very American contest between liberalism and social conservatism: A breaking free of mainstream thinking, and a rejection of established and repressive community values. This is all drawn together into the New Age concept of Ascension - a spiritual evolution of being which allows humanity to break through into a multi-dimensional universe already inhabited by more highly evolved alien entities from neighbouring star systems.

The kick in this book is how that transformation plays out on an existential level, i.e. how the protagonist and his Scooby Doo-style band of friends experience this bizarre multi-dimensional roller coaster. There are many allusions to the Matrix movies, at least in terms of the way the book steps out of the box. There are many allusions to Virtual Reality games, an increasingly straightforward solution as the narrative weirdens. But this is no first-person shooter. The author's science fiction style harkens back to a Golden Age, more like Asimov or Bradbury, and brings in action sequences reluctantly, I felt. It didn't help that most of the book is written in the present tense. This may have been a consciously worked aspect of the underlying metaphysics, but it made the pacing of certain tracts of the book feel stilted. To be fair, it can't be easy to mix heady New Age philosophy with widescreen action adventure.

So, to the narrative. The story begins as a Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind ("bilateral contact experiences through conscious, voluntary and proactive human-initiated cooperative communication with extraterrestrial intelligence") on the hills overlooking Los Angeles, involving an eclectic group of UFO enthusiasts. The main protagonist of the story, a marketing executive called Trevor, has brought along his beautiful new girlfriend Veronica, who seems to be settling into this odd clan unexpectedly well. A highly successful encounter with a UFO turns into a classic abduction experience for several members of the group, which is then plunged into chaos when the UFO is intercepted by dark forces mid-abduction.

The abductees are rounded up and imprisoned within a military facility, partly manned by aggressive aliens. Upon their escape, they manage to find their ways home remarkably easily - making the whole thing seem like an extended acid trip. Someone laced the Kool Aid? But this is just the beginning of an evolution of weirdness, which permeates and ultimately takes over the lives of the abductees. They progressively experience a deeper multi-dimensional reality, aided by alien presences whose motives are often questionable. Inevitably, the course of the transformation and ascension of humanity to a new existential level relies upon the courage, determination and underlying humanity of these abductees.

The narrative draws from many, many strands of Ufology. One might even consider it to be a comprehensive exposé of the subject, attempting to understand this disparate discipline by attempting to incorporate all of its fayre simultaneously. The alien denizens of Earth, decidedly Men In Black in concept, rely heavily upon Ufology's menagerie - Greys, reptilians, Nordics, preying mantis-types, shape-shifters, and so on.

Then there are the many conspiracy theories which each try to explain and/or contextualise the UFO phenomenon, including alien bases, mind control, MILABs, ancient aliens, abductions, hybridisation, multi-dimensional encounters, folklore, demonology, environmental catastrophism, our estranged place in the galactic community, and quite a lot of dark David Icke-style material.

But, ultimately, the preferred solution edges towards human progress to a higher spiritual truth, aided by various quasi-religious figures known as Ascended Masters. This requires the book to turn in on itself, and provide multi-faceted experiences for its reader, which serve to penetrate this higher reality. It's an ambitious gambit, and for the most part works well. It's certainly thought-provoking. The sardonic, jocular wit shared by the abductee group gives the sense of a literary work smiling at itself knowingly - like an amused Bodhisattva. Whether the book would appeal to readers not acquainted with the diversity of Ufology, I don't know, but personally I found Ontogenesis engaging and immersive, and enjoyable. I'd certainly read another of John Garvey's books.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

My email via iPhone to Congressman Adam Schiff:

Sir,
What are you thinking regarding the BDS Movement and Palestinians being mistreated by Israel? International law doesn't apply to Israel? You want to make the BDS Movement illegal?? I know Israel is powerful, and I know some Jewish people in your district are very influential. But human rights are human rights and oppression is oppression, regardless. If the two-state solution were finally implemented, the suicide-bombing would stop, wouldn't it. Wouldn't it. You must do the right thing regarding Palestinians. You know the historical significance of 19 centuries and 7 centuries. Israel cannot claim a birthright any more than any other country could in those circumstances. You must treat Palestine as a nation, and you must not treat Israel as a privileged nation.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cross a walking-simulator with a novel and you get a...

My post to the forum at gamedev.net:


This seems like a good place to start looking for advice and information on developing an unusual hybrid of ebook and game, but if I've missed the mark, I apologize. I've been wanting for a while to add media and interactivity to the e-novel, but my experiences with Sigil haven't been too encouraging. In theory, HTML5 and epub3 should allow the addition of music tracks and embedded puzzles to ebook text, but my results on a previous project when outputting tests to iBooks and Kindle-for-PC were iffy. I have seen that companies like iClassics Productions offer multimedia books, so I know it's possible, at least in what seems like 2.5D. What I'm picturing for my current novel is allowing the reader to go back and forth between a standard ebook with page-flipping and resizable text, and a 3D walking-simulator environment like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Firewatch and Gone Home. Fortunately I'm not looking for financial success with this project, because expanding, say, Gone Home out to novel length would interest only a very small market. But it's a project I would like to create just to push the boundaries of the e-novel. Who knows—in the future, students may be able to experience War and Peace as both a novel and FPS.

Briefly, my story uses the theme park as metaphor for how we view the real world. Because political polarization in the US has reached such an extreme level with the last election, I want to explore left and right political philosophies as the central character, an influential theme-park designer, pushes for changes in a new theme-park design as his own politics move from right to left. Which will, of course, eliminate any interest in this project from conservative game developers. The movement from right to left simply reflects my own political shift over the years; an equally valid story by another writer could be based on a shift from left to right.

The way the novel is shaping up now, the reader would experience the project as a walking-simulator embedded within a novel. The project currently begins as an ebook with title-theme orchestral music underscoring the front-matter pages. The walking-simulator isn't accessed until Chapter 2 (although that's not set in stone). But the project would probably have to be constructed, perhaps in Unity, as a walking-simulator with the novel embedded within it. I've been approaching the project up till now as a one-man-band, but simultaneously climbing multiple learning curves is something I would've been happier to do when I was a bit younger. So it occurs to me now to seek help, or at least information regarding focus.

A reel of my LightWave 3D models is at https://vimeo.com/159571874 and my author page at Amazon is at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002ES921O.

Thanks a lot for reading!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Chuck Schumer and Israeli Exceptionalism

[An edited/extended version of my note to Adam Schiff]

Dear Mr. Schumer:

In your press release of 4 January 2017, you quote Senator Rubio as saying "Efforts to delegitimize Israel have been underway a long time at the United Nations and have now sadly been aided by the outgoing administration" in reference to UN SC Resolution 2334. In contrast, a press release from Senator Feinstein on 23 December 2016 states "President Obama’s refusal to veto today's UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements sends a strong message that the United States still supports a two-state solution. Ending settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is an absolute necessity if we’re ever to achieve a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians." As Rachel Maddow said of Senator Feinstein, she "will crush you and bench press your corpse," and I think it may be in your and Senator Rubio's best interests not to disagree with her. I'm just sayin'.

I expect that you personally feel that Israel's settlements are wrong, as is their treatment of people in Gaza, but you have strong elements among your constituents who will not tolerate any action that is not pro-Israel. To me, this issue is significant enough on the world stage that, if I were in your place, I would vote my conscience even if it meant being voted out of office.

The occupation of the land by Israel as a sovereign nation ended in A.D. 136 with the Bar Kokhba revolt. Nineteen centuries have passed since then. When Crusader influence in the Holy Land was finally eliminated in A.D. 1244 with the Battle of La Forbie, the land came under Muslim control and remained so until 1948. That was seven centuries of Palestine being Muslim land. In any other region of the world, a people forcibly taking land that had not been theirs for 19 centuries from a people in whose possession that land had been for the previous 7 centuries would be considered an illegal invasion and other nations would become involved in ousting the invading nation. In any other region of the world.

It's understandable, after the insanity in Germany during the second quarter of the twentieth century, that everyone in 1948 felt it important for Jewish people to have a homeland. Had I been living then, I would have agreed. There needed to be significant accommodation after enduring horrors like that. But if one took stock of the situation in 1967, one would have seen that Jewish people were experiencing acceptance and finding prosperity in many places in the Western world, and one would wonder whether the need for a homeland at that point warranted the Six Day War. If the Six Day War had been treated then as a people forcibly taking land that had not been theirs for 19 centuries from a people in whose possession that land had been for the previous 7 centuries, it would have been in line with international law. It would have been acceptable to everyone if other nations became involved in ousting the invading nation because the Jewish people had had two decades to heal emotionally by that time. Instead, the drive to oust Palestinians from what has to be defined as their land increased and the establishing of the illegal settlements began.

 Of course you know this history, much better than I do. How would you react to illegal US settlements on American Indian land? How did you react to Iraq invading Kuwait? I'll have to research more but isn't Russia's treatment of Ukraine in the same vein as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How do you react to Russia's role in that conflict? Do they have a legitimate claim to Ukrainian land, or is their aggression illegal in view of international law? It's baffling to me if you, and any of your Jewish constituents, condemn illegal aggression by the US, Iraq and Russia but condone it for Israel. I don't understand where that double-standard comes from and have to label it hypocrisy.

It's interesting that both you and Senator Feinstein have the same objective, peace between Israelis and Palestinians through a two-state solution. I'm sure that, as a doctor of jurisprudence, you can dissemble with aplomb, and I expect that you personally believe that no logical argument can be made defending the illegal Israeli settlements. Even I, from down here, can see that Senator Feinstein's approach to achieving peace has the moral high ground. The logic leading to the illegal settlements being an obstacle to peace is so bald-faced that one wonders how you, and the other progressives with you, can overlook that. A question from a naive outsider: Did Israel purchase the land for the settlements from the Palestinians, or were contracts simply awarded to construction companies by the Israeli government? I expect that, if the settlement properties had been purchased legitimately from their Muslim owners, the settlements would probably not be termed illegal. If the land wasn't purchased, however, but simply subsumed by Israel, how can that not be considered criminal? It's baffling to me to see how much argues against the legal validity of the settlements and how motivated you are to overlook that. What would motivate you to the point of urging the veto of Res. 2334 and cosponsoring a resolution condemning it?

I would hate to find out that the Israel lobby gives you nice things that are just this side of illegal. I would hope your motivation is simply to stay in office where you can do the most good. It could be that your pro-Israel conditioning began in infancy and you actually can't think in any other terms. Whatever your motivation is, you know better than to overlook the illegal settlements as an obstacle to peace. Israel deserved its exceptional status between 1948 and 1967. It no longer does. 19 centuries since the end of Israel's sovereignty cannot be ignored. 7 centuries of Muslim possession of the land cannot be ignored. On the world stage, Israel is just another nation, to whom the limitations imposed by international law apply equally.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Adam Schiff objected to UN Res 2334

Dear Mr. Schiff:

As I understand H.Res. 11 objecting to UN SC Resolution 2334 and your Yea vote, you voted against a toothless Resolution that states that Israel's illegal settlements on Palestinian land constitute a flagrant violation of international law and have no legal validity. I apologize if I have it wrong, since it's an objection to an objection or something like a double negative, but it appears to me that you objected to the UN describing the settlements as illegal. I expect that you personally feel that Israel's settlements are wrong, as is their treatment of people in Gaza, but you have strong elements among your constituents who will not tolerate any action that is not pro-Israel. To me, this issue is significant enough on the world stage that, if I were in your place, I would vote my conscience even if it meant being voted out of office.

The occupation of the land by Israel as a sovereign nation ended in A.D. 136 with the Bar Kokhba revolt. Nineteen centuries have passed since then. When Crusader influence in the Holy Land was finally eliminated in A.D. 1244 with the Battle of La Forbie, the land came under Muslim control and remained so until 1948. That was seven centuries of Palestine being Muslim land. In any other region of the world, a people forcibly taking land that had not been theirs for 19 centuries from a people in whose possession that land had been for the previous 7 centuries would be considered an illegal invasion and other nations would become involved in ousting the invading nation.

It's understandable, after the insanity in Germany during the second quarter of the twentieth century, that everyone in 1948 felt it important for Jewish people to have a homeland. Had I been living then, I would have agreed. There needed to be significant accommodation after enduring horrors like that. But if one took stock of the situation in 1967, one would have seen that Jewish people were experiencing acceptance and finding prosperity in many places in the Western world, and one would wonder whether the need for a homeland at that point warranted the Six Day War. If the Six Day War had been treated then as a people forcibly taking land that had not been theirs for 19 centuries from a people in whose possession that land had been for the previous 7 centuries, it would have been in line with international law and acceptable to everyone if other nations became involved in ousting the invading nation, because the Jewish people had had two decades to heal emotionally by that time. Instead, the drive to oust Palestinians from what has to be defined as their land increased and the establishing of the illegal settlements began.

Of course you know this history, much better than I do. How would you react to illegal US settlements on American Indian land? How did you react to Iraq invading Kuwait? I'll have to research more but isn't Russia's treatment of Ukraine in the same vein as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How do you react to Russia's role in that conflict? Do they have a legitimate claim to Ukrainian land, or is their aggression illegal in view of international law? It's baffling to me if you, and any of your Jewish constituents, condemn illegal aggression by the US, Iraq and Russia but condone it for Israel. I don't understand where that double-standard comes from and have to label it hypocrisy.

I find your voting record otherwise admirable and I'm pleased to have you as my Representative. I have no complaints regarding your treatment of progressive issues like women's right, lgbt rights, and so on. I am just surprised by your vote regarding Resolution 2334, as I am the abstention of the US from voting on it. In decisions regarding Israel, you must be as broad-minded and aware of historical context as you are with other issues. If Israel's aggression is illegal, then it must not be condoned.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dear Dr. Zuckerberg

Mark,

The user should have the option to set the default on his News Feed. When I choose Most Recent, it goes back to Top Stories the next day. Even with Most Recent selected now, the stories in my News Feed are ordered 9 hrs ago, 46 mins ago, 7 hrs ago, 41 mins ago... Back off a little, okay? Facebook can't know which stories I, personally, consider top stories, so I would like Most Recent to remain the default. I'll change it to Top Stories when I want. But don't control the user's experience to the point where Most Recent doesn't even produce the most recent. Please allow Most Recent to remain the default, and realize that any reason you would give for not allowing that would be Big Brother talking.