Category Archives: Essays

The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies, by Mark Booth

2008. A stroll through history with an eye on the cryptic and hidden knowledge shared down the ages among initiates to secret societies.

I enjoyed the read but I’m not sure where I ended up at the end of the stroll.

Okay, knowledge is powerful and throughout most of history was carefully controlled – maybe still now? – and disagreeing with the men in power could cost you your life.

So there is/was samizdat circulated among the cognoscenti. There is more to heaven and earth than is dreamed of in our philisophies, Horatio. I’ll buy that.

History extends further back than we know. Our knowledge is incomplete. Intelligent resourceful humans existed prior to the invention of writing as a means to record and convey their knowledge. Man will strive to survive above all else and if that means keeping certain knowledge from those who will use it to kill you, then of course smart people will do that.

This study is an impressive and erudite work. Booth has pulled together many works and signs that support the existence of secret knowledge and secret societies throughout history. Why doesn’t it excite me that much? I’m impressed by his work, just not that excited by his conclusions.


The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, by Philip K. Dick

2011. When time stops, “the substrate is revealed.” So begins this edition of PKD’s end-of-life compulsion to understand the revelation he experienced in February 1974 then again in March. He may have seen through to the underlying reality of, well, our perception of reality. Or he may have had a small stroke. Or he may have had an acid flashback. Or he may have been visited by a superior intelligence.

PKD explores every possible angle for his sudden insight by writing mostly by hand nearly every night for the remaining eight and a half years of his life. He analyzed himself and his own work especially ten novels he felt to form a meta novel. He continued to produce novels and was working on still another when he died. He had reached a point in his career where money began to flow a bit more freely, a fan base had begun, international markets were bestowing more praise than his home country, and SF conventions were inviting him to keynote and paying for his trips. His overriding ambition throughout everything was to understand the above revelation. He wrote; he debated with himself; he called his friends in the middle of the night with further insights; he figured it all out only to dismiss his findings in the cold harsh light of the next morning when he’d start the process all over again.

It’s not clear to me if PKD ever meant for any of this work to be published, but I’d guess from my layman’s distance that he probably did. He wrote mostly by hand and didn’t bother to keep the material in an orderly fashion, but he had enough faith in his reputation to expect future biographers to come in after his death and sort through the mess he left behind. Friends even spotted him carting stacks of handwritten material to the incinerator at times, meaning he did dispose of something, which meant he did allow the rest of his pages to survive.

I spent months reading The Exegesis. The material was too dense for me to read more than ten to twenty pages at a time. This edition runs to 900 pages. I didn’t want to race through it. I wanted to think about it. Let the ideas linger, maybe fester, maybe germinate. And unusual for me, I expect to return to the book from time to time just to jump in for a blast of PKDickiana. I like how he challenges everything, every idea and solution he conjures, how he takes the BUT WHAT IF opposite side of every auto-debate.

It’s his process of exploration that I find most intriguing. How he hammers unrelentingly at a problem to see just how malleable are the assumptions upon which we base our worldview.

If you like PKD, and if you like digging into a writer’s journals for insight into how and why he wrote what he did, you’ll like Exegesis. If you aren’t familiar with PKD, this is still a violently good read. And if you stick with it, you’ll end up reading his novels which is exactly what you should do after you finally make his intimate acquaintance.

The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc., by Jonathem Lethem

2011. Non-faction, essays, liner notes, book intros, stories, segues. Jonathem Lethem all the way. Post-modernism is the word. An essayist tiptoes into memoir via (mainly) previously published pieces.

I bought it because the professional(?) reviews on-air and in print rhapsodized over Lethem the novelist, the post-modern essayist, and one reviewer in particular seemed to catch a glimpse of heaven because Lethem apparently swore off non-fiction to devote himself to novels going forward. Okay. If that works for you, I won’t judge.

If you read the New Yorker, Atlantic, Harpers, and such mags, you’re familiar with the type of essays Lethem writes. Maybe even with the very essays in this book.

For me, this book from start to finish was mostly very, very good. I wouldn’t base a new religion on it, but I did enjoy and develop a deep respect for his depth and breadth [“completist,” he calls it] approach to literature. He’s a non-MFA, which gets my respect, and he apprenticed in independent bookshops, which gets my envy.

His love of Philip K Dick is joyous, of J G Ballard is infectious, his re-intro of Paula Fox is intriguing, and his tour of Mailer is funny. I too read and enjoyed most these works he refers to, but Lethem gives me the feeling I missed something based on how he brings them back to life and plugs them into contemporary culture.

Wherever your interests lie, you’ll find something to like very, very much in these essays.

I read a book of his stories which I’ll review separately.