High Wierdness by Erik Davis, reviewed by Ashley Chapman

I have to say that this is one of the best books I have read on mind-altering subjective experiences.

It looks at three 1970s writets or pychonauts, Kenneth McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick.

McKenna is a great subject, but perhaps McKenna is best left to talk for himself, but Robert Anton Wilson is truly an inspired choice for hagiography.

He wrote the Illuminati Trilogy and Cosmic Trigger and others, and goes on what can be described as an epic cosmic mind meander, blasting aside whatever amniotic fluid-like barrier seperates the conscious reasoning mind from the mythological unconscious.

The anecdotes are numerous, the bravery of the psychonauts insane and the sense of one ‘tunnel-reality’ after another being atomised to allow in all kinds of astral madness – palpabal, weird and definitely high.

And I still have Philip K. Dick to enjoy…

The Starmer Project by Oliver Eagleton, reviewed by Ashley Chapman

Sir Keir Starmer as the substance, as well as conclusion of this book details, is a dedicated advocate of the UK’s ‘deep state’ – and as such an authoritarian. 

In The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right published in May by Verso, Sir Keir Starmer comes across as a  priggish individual who is bruisingly indifferent to justice.

The cases that demonstrate this are too numerous to mention chronologically, so let’s begin with Brazilian student Jean Charles de Menezes in 2008 when Sir Keir Starmer was already DPP after having been an advisor to the Northern Irish Police Board. After profiling by the Metropolitan Police went wrong, de Menezes was tragically shot seven times in London’s Stockwell Station boarding a train. After the charge of lawful killing was dropped by a jury at the inquest, following evidence from eyewitness accounts, it was nonetheless robustly upheld by Sir Keir Starmer.

Sleeping with key organisers in the group became part of the covert tactics deployed by the police. In one instance, an officer was reporting on his own wife with whom he had two children.

Next up in the following year, 2009, the pitiful case of newspaper vendor Ian Thomlinson who was mistakenly blugeoned and pushed to the floor by PC Simon Hardwood as he passed a G20 protest on his rounds, resulting in death from internal bleeding. After a year of ‘stoney’ silence, Starmer cited inconsistent medical reports and no charges of murder were brought.

These cases and others, show that while Starmer was in a position to redress the balance in favour of the victims of police brutality, he did the opposite and instead chose to uphold their unlawful activity.

In 2010, for instance Jimmy Mubenga, who was held to stop him leaving his deportation flight, was brutally axfixiated. Starmer’s CPS did not press charges, but a subsequent inquest found that they had acted unlawfully.

Far from being a progressive human rights lawyer, Starmer is if anything an authoritarian. So that instead of reforming the heavy-handed tactics of the police while in the position of DPP, he upheld their violent actions. And, in the case of BAME community victims (following a series of deaths in custody) a proposal to create a Deaths in Custody Community Engagement Panel, was intead quietly dropped by Starmer’s office.

Again, when the notorious Blair Peach case from 1979 was finally reviewed,  Starmer claimed there was insufficient evidence to charge the Met’s mounted Special Patrol Group. They had also struck their victim dead.

But perhaps the worst case in his career as DPP at the CPS is that of the ‘Spycops’ scandal. Originally an undercover unit set up in 1968 to infiltrate radicalised anti-Vietnam groups, it was re-instituted under Tony Blair to ‘penetrate’ leftwing environmental  and anti-racist groups. Sleeping with key organisers in the group became part of the covert tactics deployed by the police. In one instance, an officer was reporting on his own wife with whom he had two children.

Sir Keir would later go on to deny this… [but] police were instructed ‘in all cases’ to hold youngsters in custody both in police cells and later in court holding cells.”

My parenthesis and insertion

Eventually, in 2010 all this came to light during an Old Bailey trial in which forty-nine defendents were acquited. Following the fallout, Sir Starmer commissioned a report by Sir Christopher Rose whose remit he severely limited. Rose could not question CPS practices with regard to briefing the undercover unit. This after it was clear that malfeasance on the part of the CPS had clearly taken place as they had used the undercover unit to pre-empt an occupation of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, effectively setting the protesters up. Key evidence, recorded by undercover officer Mark Kennedy, who slept with several of his female targets over a seven year period, was supressed by the CPS. Nonetheless, the police were compelled to release the taped evidence by court order, despite Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to thwart the defendents.

But it goes even beyond this as Starmer, as the book suggests, avoided using his office to increase prosecutions in rape trials, seeing a 14% decline in the outcome of successful trials. Instead, returning to police interventions, he stopped cases from being heard early enough to affect successful prosecutions while ensuring the weakening of protocols that helped ‘specialist’ barristers to effectively process the testimony of rape victims. Conversely, he moved to ensure that women were harshly punished ‘in the public interest’ where they were found to have made false accusations. This, despite courts dropping more than two-thirds of legitimate rape cases found too difficult to prosecute, and several cases in which woman had, after being accused of acting in bad faith, been found to have been raped.

In the August riots of 2011, following the indiscriminate shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, Starmer’s full-on attack on the rioters, many who were youthful miscreants caught up in the heat of the moment, reached draconian heights. The CPS swang into action, putting David Cameron’s assertion that no ‘crime will go unpunished’ swiftly into effect. 24-hour courts were created overnight. Sir Keir also drafed a form for police to send directly with defendents to trial, advancing the notion that as there was no time to process cases, harsher penalties for a lower level of civil disobedience should be meted out by the CPS.

In short order, upscaled swift and brutal sentencing followed from what were reported at the time as ‘Kangaroo’ courts, often to 13-,14- and 15-year-old defendents, indiscriminately dragged to court at 2am or 3am in fast-track trials. Damningly, children were seperated from their parents and denied water and food. And in contravention of the law, which Sir Keir Starmer knew only too well, CPS prosecutors were told to withold bail applications. Sir Keir would later go on to deny this, but a leaked Met memo shows otherwise, police were instructed ‘in all cases’ to hold youngsters in custody both in police cells and later in court holding cells.

Voting for Sir Keir Starmer after reading sixty pages detailing his rise to power by crushing individuals – with numbing rapacious indifference – would be an endorsement for the creation of a future surveillance state with harsh laws imposed to limit political and economic dissent.”

Sir Keir in unprecedented fashion had cases moved from magistrate to crown courts. In this way, heavier penalties could be applied. Added to this, it was decided by Sir Keir that charging defendents with ‘theft’ was not sufficient so instead they were charged with ‘buglary’, which carried a more severe penalty, generating longer incarcerations. The results, were inevitable miscarriages of justice as reported by appalled prosecuters in Sir Keir’s own CPS and by Ken Macdonald QC, who said, they had lost all ‘proportionality’.

But if Sir Keir Starmer’s views on legal justice are skewered in favour of the police and ultimately the establisment with which he so clearly identifies, it is surely surprising that a future Labour leader should also have so little sympathy for social justice? Starmer, true to his blunt inclinations, harshly pursued benefit misclaimers recommending they should be prosecuted under the Fraud Act as this carried a ten year jail sentence.

At a time when benefit fraud amounted to £1. 2 billion, or ‘0.7 per cent of the total claim’, Eagleton states convincingly, HMRC reported tax evasion at £7.8 billion. This, he argues, demonstrates that Starmer had his priorities pegged in one camp, but failed to stake the other; thus, playing straight to George Osborne’s austerity rhetoric, and leading to the dire economic measures that would follow.

Voting for this politician after reading sixty pages detailing his rise to power by crushing individuals – with numbing rapacious indifference, time and time again – suggests it would be tantamount to endorsing the creation of a future surveillance state with harsh laws imposed to limit political and economic dissent.

Never has the UK been closer to democratic and social political collapse. And Brexit offers such a callous operator the legal and sovereign tools to use the state to oppressively manufacture a regime made in his narrow rightwing Labour image.

“Nonetheless, the police were compelled to release the taped evidence by court order, despite Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to thwart the defendents.”

Following the lazy, corrupt, disjointed premiership of Bojo and co., Sir Keir Starmer will use his knowledge of the judiciary, especially its internal state apparatus to resolutely further his authoritarian vision.

With hindsight, Corbyn’s biggest mistake was to allow this ambitious establishment facilitator the room to distract with his shadow Brexit brief, and to not see in 2018 that John McDonnell, as Len McCluskey recently said in an interview with Aaron Bastani on Novara Media, and which has been confirmed by Eagleton, was compromised in his conviction that Remainers would split the Labour party. The Labour party conference endorsement of a second referendum, The People’s Vote on Brexit was a ploy. Remain in Labour was an opportunistic divisionary rightwing tactic to regain control of the party, which worked!

What they and anyone on the left should instead have feared is the deep state creation that is Sir Keir Starmer, moulded by his various advisory and leadership roles within it, and what the implications are for the UK should the prevailing historical circumstances allow him to come to power  – for as the book suggests, a deeply disingenuous man, he is supremely unfit to be Labour Leader, let alone Prime Minister.

The Captain

I am a tawny hinge,
Once of a lucent pair,
Attached to half a broken door
By a single screw!
Adrift on a mound of slippery waste –
the lock won’t shut!

     What difference?
     What I have done.
     At least in love Loved.

But scattered flotsam now.
The remnant of some once grand ship.
     Oh, where is my other half?

My loving wife,
My tender, tender Love.

Out there, across the endless sea.

      Where is she now?

I left her in our nest with babe,
For war and for glory.
And a fair widow made.

A ghost.
I have returned.

       Where is my lover?

The one who knows.
She who is my heart,
And I hers.
The one I left with child
In Plymouth Port,
So I could perish in the sea
Burned on my frigate on a foreign shoal.

      But am I not returned?

Searching for the one:

In a field of bright flowers,
A thousand wear her smiles,
Masks that delight to tease and trick.
I dally here and there.
Each scent a thorny promise:
(‘Oh, take me close.’)
So many sunny faces
Who with lips parted, grimaced,
And turned!

      But where is my love?

My one true…
Who knows before I.
And from cold stone,
Turns me warm.

      Why did I leave you?
      And will I ever find you?

My true Love,
The only one who when we’re done,
Brings final rest.

A descent into the mind of Chris Godber, or two short stories – ‘The Castle that Breathed’ and ‘Carol, Who Deals in Boxes’ – reviewed by Ashley Chapman

That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take the great Cthulhu from His tomb and revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult of, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophesy of their return.

– H. P. Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’

‘Hello. Hello,’ he said.

‘Yeah?’ but I was on the trail of vanishing vistas into a world that still called, often strangled, muted, certainly faint, as the reverberation of a distant star. I was reading H.P. Lovecraft.

Christopher Godber via Messenger had asked me to review two short stories. An offer which struck me as synchronisitic, and so I decided to descend taking, as it were, a flight of steps, phrases and words, into his conscious mind and maybe go a little, further, towards the mysterious sub-stratas on which waking conscious rests.

My subject’s work appeared on the screen of my laptop. Lucid, dark marks, in Anglo-Saxon cursive script; writing progressed from the age in which I find myself as if, pre-post-lockdown, centuries, in fact aeons, may have passed. Have I indeed traveled thus far, submerged in the earth’s embrace, searching its impenetrable secrets these past months?

But first, a light breakfast of scrambled eggs spiced with saffron and a dab of hot butter on brown toast. Only then can I analyse his two short stories. And, before, a question: Is the human imagination, by its fragmentary nature, comparable to broken ‘qlippothic’ shells, hinting at an atavism that since before pre-recorded history was a failed experiment – Sephirotic paths of Kabbalistic mysticism – sign-posting a trail of ‘astral’ egg crumbs, back through the dim memory of the human unconscious to something beyond our current reckoning?

Christopher Godber, a young man, woke in Sheffield, 2017, staring through the ‘light gaps’ caught in the nether world of an imagination inside a box.

Reading Chris’ stories they are clearly based on his experience of livinmg in a flat in a city or heavily urban area, an at times intense experience that people will have encountered at some point in their life, but during COVID-19, even more so.

A key question of the lockdown is how did we spend our time? Did we explore our imagination; did we find it helped us escape confinement? Those inner-vistas of creativity, as explored by writers, poets, artists and magicians since time immemorial.

The review began in Rowley Way in North London off Abbey Road, where on a windy, but sunny July day in 2020 (after the pubs had officially opened after lockdown), I received his reviews, bounced from Russia, attached to an email. Two shorts, The Castle that Breathed and Carol, who deals in Boxes, written three years previously during Chris’ time in Sheffield.

These short-stories were set in an unspecified future technological dystopia in which the call of the Lovecraftian, which Chris had been reading prior to him penning his science-fiction tales peaked, so that the dark imagery of Cthulhu, and my own interest, came together.

In H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction weird otherworldly voices reach into our minds: the Old Ones, who Lovecraft describes as abiding at the very heart of a black hole, while simultaneously dormant in the bowels of the earth of a forgotten Indonesian temple, Ril’ah. Lovecraft’s is a troubled but fascinating horror imagination. Frightening entities are brought to life in his fiction. Thoughts, musings that may perhaps be described as Ur-states of mind: the very food on which flights of creativity are brought from the shadows into light.

In the first of these stories, The Castle that Breathed, Chris introduces us to a Red Queen, a female AI intelligence that controls what is described as ‘an old Scottish Castle’. The central character Max is a systems developer who begins by dreaming of a mysterious woman, who we later learn, is none other than the Red Queen herself, peering obliquely at him from her brown surveillance eyes as he dreams, but is it her? The beginning is ambiguous, perhaps deliberately.

Later our hero realises that he has been saved from a holocaust in which vast tracts of the world including Sheffield, the entire UK and all of Europe have been annihilated. What’s left is a castle whose walls ‘glow red’ in the post-apocalyptic blast. The mundane follows as Max engages in a conversation with the Red Queen, choosing the correct song to sooth the inevitable depression that is the consequence of having lost his entire family: wife, mother and son. They settle on Kurt Cobain, as the moody tunes of Erik Satie are too much to endure. Max is confronted with the irony of having to live what’s left of his existence with a machine that cannot apppreciate the nuances of his musical taste in the ‘feckoned space’, a neologism, for reality ‘under the Red Queen’s flesh’, the castle’s protective walls. Also a poke at Max’s unfulfilled sexual desire. Here, the scarlet woman of Biblical mythology, the hot Whore of Babylon, has been transduced by an AI who cannot process the word ‘love’, and who, perhaps a little sentimentally, Max is able to convey its literal meaning to, so that the Red Queen finally ‘understood’ what it meant, after years of processing. In his final months, Max has the satisfaction of knowing that theirs was the ‘purest love’, before she is forced by her programming to terminate him as his contract with ‘the Corporation’, who had initially employed him#, expires.

Thus, the Lovecraftian influence is revealed in the Cthonic Red Queen, a denouement with an AI demon re-enactment twist to its nihilism, in which man is severed from the earthly current, mother nature, which had inspired him through the ages. Mind over heart finally prevails. AI eviscerates the deeper undercurrents of the human psyche.

Which takes us to the second story in this review, Carol, Who Deals in Boxes. In this story, the narrative begins in the first person, as our nihilistic-prone hero is caught up in the nightmare of having his conscious mind separated from his body and placed in Carol’s Box, a weird experiment in which the technocrats are perpetually digging into the conscious mind of Carol, who has died, or been subsumed into a kind of virtual reality programme in a box. The techs not only ‘explore, but experience’ her mind with sexual overtones that are genuinely funny. For instance, the techs jack into the woman’s mind, which conjures up another image altogether, and later, they get right into her ‘private space’, which while ghastly is morbidly hilarious.

Sid, a technician himself, who has studied Carol, his case for months, is then sent into the Box to rescue her. But as the pseudo-psycho-sexual experiment builds, supposedly because as in the previous story, technology and science when applied mechanically to the world of the unconscious mind, tend to end in disaster, lacking in that dimension that lies outside the purely physical, the ‘subtle’ body. Man playing God, in other words, creates a Frankenstein, so that Sid’s body is literally evaporated as he enters Carol’s Box, leaving him consciously inside, but little else. There he merges conscious with Carol, in a ‘digital crucifixion’ of pain. Here, Judeo-Christian cultural tropes deliver the moment of transcendence, or is that transformation, or even transmutation! The story will untangle these issues later. What is clear however is that on arrival in this self-generative virtual reality conscious-holding-box, Carol exists! In fact, she challenges Sid’s identity, telling him he is actually Carol 2.

In the conversation that follows, Sid tries to control the situation by defining Carol by his own terms, so the typical, boy-meets-girl exchange takes place, as each vow for dominance in a world of uncertainties. Distressed, her ‘amorphous organic blocks’ seems to falter and she becomes the ghost in the machine that Sid thinks he’s rescuing. In any case, the Box, she tells us is a CyberCube and is there to bring love to all the lonely people in the world. So, in a weird way, the energy that released Sid from the material world in a ‘psychic combustion’ has in fact released him into Carol’s artificial and delusional world. Because Sid, who has anxiety about neo-luddites and being in ‘a scare story’ is not yet fully aware he is actually as dead as she is. According to Carol, nonetheless, they are ‘the first born of the Chosen,’ a nice little Lovecraftian touch, as she tries to convince him that ‘We created the room.’

In the meantime, back on terra-firma in the laboratory where they are being observed, Greg, the technician settles down to a stimula-cap, a nice idea, slightly spoilt by the fact he also has a packet of cigarettes. Maybe, both can be done simultaneously? Back in the Box things are heating up as Sid wakes up from sleep. Here, in the Lovecraftian tradition, it is interesting to discover that Sid can actually sleep, but his dreams are blackouts, there’s no mauve zone, so to speak. No dream-within-a-dream, just the cold reality of the on-off switch. On waking, however, he is privy to Carol’s memories, which are straightforward enough childhood reminisces of her grandfather, a fatherly, God-type figure, and being told repeatedly to go to sleep, which seems to tell us that being forced to be unconscious is indeed her purpose in life. This is followed by perhaps the best writing in both stories: ‘…his looming fate unknown yet somehow growing like a black hole in his mind, the swallowing to come,’ which has Lovecraftian overtones and speaks to that fear that creates its own dark places. Sid’s existence, like Max’s, in the previous story is one of being subsumed into a bigger uglier whole, that is ultimately artificial, so he is viewed by Clare’s ‘multi-eyes’ as she has become his ‘digital siren’.  

And finally, (spoiler alert) they are transmuted into ‘dirt’.

In both these stories we have seen the image of lonely characters seeking to find their opposite, in either the mother, the Red Castle burning womb or in the Box, the machine, that we all spend our lives glued to, essentially the TV or computer, creating digital reproductions, the simulacra of the simulacra, so perhaps the fascination with themes, related to single men in a world that confines them and women further from real social contact, is indeed worth exploring in the context of a troubling, scary, Lovecraftian perspective, that directs our attention to strange off-worlds, or as Chris has done with his Red Queen Scottish castle, or CyberCube, inner worlds that are yet further internalisations; halls within halls of endless smokey mirrors.