zenpundit.com » science fiction

Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part III. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

Zen here – today we continue a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

See the source image

by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

In the previous two installments, I provided an overview of fiction books used in military education, and then a synopsis of the Future History fiction series that sprang from the brow of Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, with a little help from their friends. Now I will turn to specific examples of how these brilliant and entertaining books treat grand strategy, strategy, tactics, and even logistics. [Definitions thereof taken from Stephen Morillo, What is Military History?]  In doing so, I hope to make a cogent and convincing case that at least some of the 20+ books that make up the galactic backstory of the superb novel The Mote in God’s Eye should be part of American professional military education. 

Let’s start at the top, with grand strategy—which is “where warfare and politics merge: a country’s grand strategy in a war describes its goals not strictly in military terms but in political, economic, or even cultural terms with military action, including strategy, seen from this perspective as one tool, with diplomacy, bribery, marriage alliance, and so forth, of grand strategy.” (Morillo is great on substance, but he does tend toward run-on sentences.) In the Pournelle-Carr universe, the best example of this is the centuries-long struggle between the Empire of Man, on the one hand,  and Secessionist systems led by the genetically-engineered Saurons, on the other. This is covered in detail in John Carr and Don Hawthorne, War World: The Battle of Sauron (2007).  Although the actual war between the “cattle” of the Empire (as the Saurons derisively refer to normal humans) and the future übermensch lasts only 37 years, the conflict actually lasted for centuries—Sauron was part of the Co-Dominium-undermining “Brotherhood” of planets, and engaging in outlawed genetic engineering, by the mid-21st century. Five hundred years later, not only are all Saurons enhanced, but in the 2400s they began creating Cyborg “super-soldiers.” But open military conflict does not erupt until the early 27th century. For some years prior to that Sauron was the leader of the Secessionist movement of planets demanding the right, in the Imperial Parliament, to withdraw from the Empire. Much of the Secessionist dissatisfaction is with the Empire’s taxation and perceived heavy-handedness; but there are also the usual political squabbles, as well—with “Claimants” to the Imperial throne advancing their right to rule, while also carving off quadrants and systems as their own fiefs. (Roman, or for that matter Ottoman or Ming, imperial history transferred to the future and an interstellar setting, in other words.) The Saurons, of course, see themselves as not just the rightful rulers of humanity but the next step in human evolution. And normal humans as simply breeding receptacles and drones for them. The Empire, for all its flaws, is the only hope for humanity to avoid slavery—or worse. So it engages in intense propaganda against Sauron, branding its people as monstrously supremacist. Yet this succeeded because it was largely accurate. Also, in a brilliant stroke that helped win the war, the Imperial center on the planet Sparta granted amnesty  to traitorous Secessionists—who then brought their fleets of spaceships to assist the Imperial forces in not only defeating space forces of Sauron, but in destroying all life on the planet. Although one ship of Saurons escaped, the existential threat to normal humanity was ended—but at the cost of the First Empire collapsing shortly afterwards. As Galen Diettinger, the commander of the lone surviving contingent of Saurons (and a surprisingly sympathetic figure, as devised by Carr and Hawthorne), remarked:

“we led a totalitarian state into war against a representative Empire, a republic in all but name. Hannibal’s ironic victory was that his actions forced the Romans to adopt policies that did doom their Republic….” Likewise for the First Empire of Man.

Other great examples of grand strategy in the Pournelle-Carr Future History series are the accounts of the later 21st century attempts by Grand Admiral of the CoDominium Fleet, Sergei Lermontov, to deploy elements of the CoDo Marines—in particular the 42nd Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel John Christian Falkenberg, which had been decommissioned and turned into a mercenary outfit—to prevent any other colony planets’ military forces from rising to challenge to CoDominium.  And to help ensure stability on key planets so that society will survive on them once the CoDominium inevitably collapses. Lermontov’s grand strategic goals were largely successful. 

A level down from grand strategy is strategy: “the level of military action and analysis that has to do with deciding the objectives of operations in specific theaters.” There are legions of examples of such (pun intended), many of which involved the aforementioned Colonel Falkenberg. In particular, two of his brilliant campaigns are worth studying in this regard. One, on Haven, against a Muslim leader claiming to be the Mahdi. (See Carr, War World: Falkenberg’s Regiment, 2018, as well as Carr, ed., War World: Jihad!, 2013). Another, on New Washington, which is trying to stave off conquest by another colonized planet in the same solar system, Franklin—the latter employing its own mercenaries, infantry from the Scottish planet Covenant and armor from the German-settled Friedland. (Laid out in Pournelle and S.M. Stirling, The Prince, 2002). 

Haven is the setting for many of the War World stories.  It’s actually a (barely) habitable moon of a gas giant, quite cold and with thin atmosphere. It’s also, in the 21st century, the most distant colony from Earth—some 65 light-years away, which takes a year or so to reach. That makes it a convenient dumping ground for Earth’s undesirables and criminals; so “BuReLoc”—the Bureau of Relocation—transports many such there. Haven is also a very important source of several crucial minerals, as well as precious stones. And there’s a sizable presence of a new religious sect, the Church of New Harmony. In 2075 an Arab Muslim, Tawfiq al-Talib, is proclaimed Mahdi and begins a jihad on Haven—supported, behind the scenes, by the Arab planet Levant. He finds willing troops, as 60% of Haven’s 4.5 million population is Muslim. Falkenberg’s 42nd is sent to bolster the 77th Marine regiment already on Haven. They also bring in a Gurkha battalion from Earth, and arm miners’ militias. But the CoDo forces number at most 15,000, and face at least 200,000 Mahdists. 

Thus, Falkenberg relies on innovative—if politically incorrect—tactics and logistics. The former are “what armed forces use in combat. They can be offensive (a cavalry charge, a tank attack, etc.) or defensive (a shield wall, digging a trench, or occupying a fortification, among other tactics)…. Tactics can also apply to ship-to-ship combat…and air-to-air….”).  The latter are “how armed forces are supplied, both in peacetime and on campaign.” It is important to realize “how significantly the strategic choices supposedly open to commanders [are] constrained by the potential availability of food and water sources….”  For example, Colonel Falkenberg leverages the latter by dropping pig carcass parts into every well, oasis and spring on the northern plains where the Mahdi’s supporters live, thereby effectively denying his hundreds of thousands of men potable water. The Mahdists persevere and attack a CoDo fort along a river. “In preparation for this mines had been laid in the shallows and along both banks. At the spot where the guns and rockets were all zeroed in, stakes had been planted at an upstream angle with their sharpened ends just beneath the faint ripple of current…. Their principal purpose was to deflate the [Mahdists’] rubber rafts and create maximum confusion at this point…. As the Mahdi’s forces predictably jammed and clotted among the stakes…the artillerists up at the fort made their contribution, proximity fuses spreading shrapnel at an optimum height….” (Falkenberg’s Regiment, p. 141). “By the third time this maneuver had been pulled off, the river—temporarily  dammed by the corpses of the Mahdi’s finest—had stopped flowing….” (p. 142).  Some time later the Marines took on the Mahdi’s Bedouin forces in a non-siege situation. “The Arabs, used to the Haven militias’ hunting rifles, had not expected men with automatic weapons. At the first shot they rushed. The Seventy-Seventh’s men responded with traversing fire from two light machines guns and something over a hundred automatic rifles. Fifty of the Mahdi’s men went down in the first few seconds before they realized their mistake….” (p. 165).  And so on.  The Mahdi’s forces are squeezed logistically (Falkenberg also has his forces round up, or kill, herd animals), goaded/lured into attacking CoDo armed nodes, then eventually cut off from their outside support. So he Mahdists are eventually defeated—but you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly how.

On New Washington Falkenberg’s forces effectively win the war via a mixture of subterfuge and relentless attack. Unlike the campaign on Haven, this was a clash of modern forces and conventional tactics. First Falkenberg’s men took the main enemy (Franklin) fortress by pulling off a Trojan horse maneuver: hiding soldiers inside boxes marked “commissary supplies,” who then emerge in the middle of the night to open the gates to the 42nd’s main forces. Falkenberg then sent the regiment north into a heavily-populated river valley, which motivated many of the local ranchers to turn out with their weapons in support. (It also gave the New Washingtonians control of the most fertile food producing area.) But their main objective, carried out, was to move artillery pieces several hundred kilometers north in order to cover the Friedland tanks moving west, through the only possible route, to attack his forces. That armored brigade was decimated by artillery strikes, and so too was the enemy infantry. These mercenary units then surrendered. Once the occupying power (Franklin) had lost these purchased forces, it could no longer hold on to New Washington with its own military. The strategy worked perfectly to undergird the grand strategy: “Neutralize this planet with minimum CD [CoDominium] investment and without destroying the industries.” But ensure that neither Franklin nor New Washington would be able to build their own space fleets for some time.


Such are just a few examples of grand strategy, strategy, tactics and logistics from the Pournelle-Carr Future History series. Per David Webb, whom I quoted in my first installment: these are engaging and thoughtful stories which “portray the military within a science-fiction context.” They are not “bug-shoots.” They are “about human beings…caught up in warfare and carnage.”  The many War World books; The Battle for Sauron; the 1000+ pages of The Prince—all are just as worthy of study by America’s professional military as Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers. In fact, I think the many volumes comprising the back history to The Mote in God’s Eye are, in fact, more worthy of gracing the reading lists of the service Commandants, the military academies, and the war colleges. Don’t believe me? Read some yourself. 

Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part II. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

Friday, June 11th, 2021

Zen here – today we continue a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

See the source image

Pournelle’s “Future History” Setting and Politics

by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

Forty-seven years ago Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle published The Mote in God’s Eye. It’s not about religion, but about humanity’s first contact with aliens in the early 31st century. (I consider it one of the three greatest sci-fi novels ever—along with Frank Herbert’s Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.) A sequel by the same authors, The Gripping Hand, came out in 1993. Since then, some 22 volumes have been published dealing with that universe’s millennium-long backstory. The books are “hard” science fiction—that is, in the genre that strives for scientific accuracy and avoids mysticism, magic, and the like. (Star Trek is usually classified as “hard,” Star Wars as soft—if not downright squishy.) They could furthermore be classified as “military” sci-fi, which speaks for itself. 

A website with info on the stories and novels, as well as the Secondary “World” (more properly, universe) itself, is complete up through 2018—although another volume came out in March, 2020 (with even more to come, according to series chief John F. Carr, with whom I’ve been in contact). Many writers have contributed, although the heaviest hitters have been Pournelle (before his death in 2017), the aforementioned, and prolific, Carr, and S.M. Stirling (author of the superb Dies the Fire and its many “Emberverse” sequels). Larry Niven, the original co-author, largely parted ways with the series after the two seminal novels. But Pournelle—whose doctorate was in political science—had a great deal to do with shaping what has come to be known as his “Future History.”

In brief, this alternative history starts with the USSR surviving and joining with the USA in the 1990s to create the “CoDominium:” joint Soviet-American rule of the planet, carried out by the Grand Senate composed of American and Soviet politicians. CoDominium military forces, notably a Space Navy and Marines, are created. In the early 21st century an instantaneous interstellar drive is invented and by 2020 colonies are founded outside our solar system.  Before the century is up, there are at least 70 of them, many established by various countries on Earth, and/or by separatist and religious groups. The most important are Sparta, St. Ekaterina and Sauron. The first was founded by American professors who set up a dual monarchy with representative government. The second is Russian more than Soviet and eventually allies with Sparta. The last is run by “English separatists from Quebec and South African white expatriates” who soon embark on a program of genetic engineering to create a master race. By the beginning of the 22nd century, the US and USSR break their alliance and engage in nuclear war on Earth—making the stage of human activity the former colonies.  There are, arguably, four crucial aspects to this Future History.

First, although interstellar travel is possible, it has drawbacks. The Alderson Drive can only move ships between star systems, and is useless within one. There is no “warp drive” or ability to travel even close to light speed. “Starships,” whether commercial or military, take weeks or months to move within extrasolar systems in order to reach the “Alderson Point,” which is a “tramline” to another system. They then travel there instantaneously, but must repeat the slow process to reach the planets within the destination system. Ships do have powerful lasers, and nuclear weapons, but they fight each other at sub-light speeds. And most importantly in terms of military tactics, at least for the first few centuries of this history, armed forces that can be moved instantaneously between star systems still have to fight as infantry with rifles, artillery and the like on distant planets. 

Second, from the early 21st to early 31st centuries, there are no alien foes. All of the battles and wars take place between humans, albeit spread across hundreds of light-years. In this regard Pournelle’s universe resembles that of Frank Herbert’s Dune, in which homo sapiens is the sole sentient measure. Man’s inhumanity to Man is spread to the stars, but is thus that much more fathomable. 

Third, this Future History is cyclical. Dr. Pournelle was known to be a  fan of C. Northcote Parkinson. Parkinson’s primary thesis (besides his famous law) is that history “reveals…a sequence in which one form of rule replaces another, each in turn achieving not perfection but decay” (The Evolution of Political Thought, p. 9). Indeed, “there is no historical reason for supposing that our present systems of governance are other than quite temporary expedients.” The Western arrogance that “the development of political institutions has progressed steadily from the days of Lycurgus or Solon down to the present day” with “the ultimate achievement being British Parliamentary Democracy or perhaps the American Way of Life” is just that that (Ibid., p. 8).  In sum, drawing on anthropology as well as history, Parkinson sees the human cycle of political systems running thusly: monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, dictatorship. The final then institutionalizes into monarchy, and the process starts all over again. There are variations on each of the four types (see Parkinson, p. 12, drawing on Aristotle), but in toto those are adequate. Across space (literally!) and time, humans try each of these—sometimes more than one, simultaneously, on the same planet.

Fourth, the series is rife with Great Power conflict. The CoDominium initially serves as a hegemon, not an imperial power—the single most powerful polity, but unable to directly rule all the colonies. (See here for a succinct analysis of hegemony v. empire.) It’s largely a unipolar interstellar system, then. After the nuclear war on Earth, the system becomes multipolar, with various colonies—now independent planets—vying for the upper hand via their own fleets and military forces (both planetary and mercenary). Eventually Sparta emerges as the next hegemon, thanks in main to the fact that the bulk of the CoDominium Navy swears allegiance to the Spartan throne. Over the course of 150 years, Sparta then creates an Empire by consolidating—both peacefully and violently—most of the other human-settled planets into its rule. Pax Spartanica then lasts until the 27th century, when the First Empire falls mainly after exhausting itself in defeating the Nazi-like, genetically-engineered Saurons—during which human-occupied space was bipolar in conflict terms. Not until the early 30th century is the Second Empire (once again ruled by Sparta), proclaimed, consisting of over 200 planets, all human; that is, until 3017. 

[Up next: how these political divisions played out in various wars, on various planets and moons, across the centuries.]

DoubleQuoting Trees, 2001 – 2019, Greta 2019 – 1898

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from tree-planting in the millions, via Tolkien’s ents in entmoot mode, to the Yukon, science-fiction time-travel, and a Greta Thunberg lookalike ]

A couple, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife, planted 20 million trees in 20 years. Some of their product is visible in this photographic DoubleQuote


Simply and factually, two states of a hillside are connected by twenty years of planting, similarly but more personally, a photographer and his wife are connected by love and marriage nurtured by their lives together, more abstractly two nodes in a network are connected by edges, in each case, the connections in a network are the strength of that network..

And in this case, trees are the result of planting over time, and over time this marriage of two persons is no doubt deepened. They make a difference, and if a hundred thousand, scattered across the habitable globe, followed their example, the impact would be considerable.

Consider also that in the view of a German scientist whose ideas are, according to the Smithsonian, “shaking up the scientific world”. Anthropomorphosizing more than a little, the Smithsonian writer tells us:

Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.

20,000 trees must have quite a conversation.



Cue JRR Tolkien on the tree-like Ents, the ancient and wise guardians of trees and forests introduced in volume 2 of the Lord of the Rings:

Quickbeam, for example, guarded rowan trees and bore some resemblance to rowans: tall and slender, smooth-skinned, with ruddy lips and grey-green hair. Some ents, such as Treebeard, were like beech-trees or oaks. But there were other kinds. Some recalled the chestnut: brown-skinned Ents with large splayfingered hands, and short thick legs. Some recalled the ash: tall straight grey Ents with many-fingered hands and long legs; some the fir (the tallest Ents), and others the birch, … and the linden.

A gathering of the ents is called an Entmoot. Tolkien quotes Treebeard:

The ents have not troubled about the wars of men and wizards for a very long time. But now something is about to happen that has not happened for an age… Ent Moot. [ … ] Beech, oak, chestnut, ash… Good, good, good. Many have come. Now we must decide if the ents will go to war.


By way of a bookend to this post, here’s a DoubleQuote in images of Greta Thunberg and a 1898 lookalike in a photo from the Yukon:

As usual, parallelisms promote speculation — in this case, the laughable, laudable conspiracy theory that Thunberg is a time traveler.

Conspiracy! Science fiction!

The suggestion is that Greta traveled back from our time, when she despaired of our efforts to reverse human-caused climate change, to the Yukon of 1898, where she set about reversing the problem at its time and place origin. Exactly why human-caused climate change should have started in the Yukon in 1898 is not clear, nor can we understand how, if she began her efforts at reversing the progressive wasting of earth by human impact back in 1898 and had had no notable impact on that process by now, as revealed in the 1898 and 2019 photos of Ms Thunberg.. that too is unclear.

Fabulation, however, is fabulpous by dedfinition — so we record this conspiracy here.


  • HuffPost, Photo From 1898 Sparks Hilarious Theory That Greta Thunberg Is A Time-Traveler
  • Owen Sound Sun Times, Greta Thunberg look-alike in 1898 Yukon gold rush photo has sparked time-travel conspiracies
  • **

    Okay, here’s a suggestion:

    Greta Thunberg — or the Entmoot , for that matter — might suggest we plant trees:

    Plant for yourself:

    But be warned

    As we plant trees, we must avoid planting monocultures, and ensure we plant variety, as The Economist suggests.

    One of the more interesting comments about, well..

    Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — reading my daily dose of 3QD again after a health-induced lapse, and glad I’m back ]

    One of the more interesting comments about, well, religion, comes from a review by Robert Fay in 3QD of Chinese science fiction master Liu Cixin‘s novel, the first in a trilogy and the one President Obama so praised, The Three Body Problem, reading it in a wide world context:

    Sacrifice used to be part-and-parcel of the western self-identity. Jesus on the cross at Calvary was the central spiritual truth of Christendom. The west, of course, left much of this behind during the Enlightenment. The French Revolution further asserted the rights of individuals. If anything, the consumption of consumer goods is the true religion of the west now, and it demands we all act immediately on our impulses, cravings and desires.

    This hasn’t worked out well for the planet.


    Yes, sacrifice, and it’s dual, martyrdom, have all but disappeared, although, well, the Marines understand sacrifice, and the jihadists understand martyrdom.

    To take you into the audacity of sacrifice or the self-surrender of martyrdom is beyond me here. Let me just note that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and the death of Joan of Arc a martyrdom. Arguably, the two ideas are parallel, and meet at infinity, as in the Cure D’Ars observation:

    If we knew what a Mass is, we should die of it.

    Thus, theologically speaking, the Eucharist (present) cyclically repeats Christ‘s sacrifice on the cross (past), in a transcendent manner which makes of it a foretaste of the Wedding Feast (future) envisioned in the book of Revelation.

    But enough!


    There’s a fine alternative vision of the three body problem in Bill Benzon‘s Time Travelers We Are, Each And All, his account of brain, mind and Beethoven, which, like Robert Fay‘s account of Liu Cixin‘s novel of that name, arrived in today’s edition of 3QD. Benzon is quoting the literary critic Wayne Booth describing a performance of Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 as constituting unities out of a string quartet, Booth himself and his nwife, and, somehow, both of those and Beethoven — three bodies as one:

    There is Beethoven, one hundred and forty-three years ago … writing away at the marvelous theme and variations in the fourth movement. … Here is the four-players doing the best it can to make the revolutionary welding possible. And here we am, doing the best we can to turn our “self” totally into it: all of us impersonally slogging away (these tears about my son’s death? ignore them, irrelevant) to turn ourselves into that deathless quartet.

    That unity of three bodies is found, and can be joined, in Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131:


    Reading Benzon‘s piece, we can benefit also from his presentation of neurons, their connections and internal workings:

    We have no way of directly counting the neurons in the nervous systems, but estimates put the number at roughly 86 billion with an average of 10,000 synapses per neuron.

    To specify the brain’s state at a given moment in clock time we need to know the state of each unit component, such as a neuron. One convenient way to do this is to say that a neuron is either firing or it is not. So it can have two states. Neurons are complicated things; each is a living cell with the full complement of machinery that that requires. There’s a lot more to a neuron that whether or not it’s firing.

    This description of neurons is in service to a discussion of clock-time and brain states, which is itself in service to a wider discussion of time itself, as our wrist-watches understand it, and as our experience of Beethoven might cause us to discover it.

    Following the musical branch of this discussion, we find Benzon quoting Bernstein on ego-loss:

    I don’t know whether any of you have experienced that but it’s what everyone in the world is always searching for. When it happens in conducting, it happens because you identify so completely with the composer, you’ve studied him so intently, that it’s as though you’ve written the piece yourself. You completely forget who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there. You just make it up as though you never heard it before. Because you become that composer.

    Benzon‘s three into one is Bernstein‘s two into one, and all paths lead to reliving a keynote segment of the life of Beethoven — Beethoven as a musical Everest, with Bernstein and the quartet as sherpas, Booth and his wife and Benzon and you and I as climbers, some at base-camp listening to the great Chuck Berry, some on the final ascent, some planting flags at the peak..

    Peak Beethoven is phenomenological unity. Across time, time travel.


    Oh, the numbers games one can play — Sixteen into forty into one in Tallis’ forty-part motet, Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui — where the very title speaks to the union – I Have Hope in None Other:

    Oh and is not religion at the heart of this unity, this unity at the very heart of religion? And is not this braiding of voices, this polyphony, a working of this unity?


    My early mentor and friend, Herbert Warner Allen, wrote of his own time with Beethoven. As I wrote elsewhere:

    Herbert Warner Allen, a classical scholar, sometime newspaper editor and noted authority on wines, experienced a timeless moment between two beats during a performance of one of the Beethoven symphonies. Not knowing quite what had hit him, he went on to research the mystical tradition and wrote three mostly forgotten books [of which the first was aptly named The Timeless Moment] situating his experience within intellectual tradition without nailing it to any particular dogmatic structure. TS Eliot, who published the books, inscribed a book of his own poetry to Warner Allen with the words “from the Srotaapanna to the Arhat, TS Eliot”, with a footnote to explain “Srotaapanna: he who has dipped one toe in the river of the wqaters of enlightenment; Arhat: he who has arrived at the further shore”.

    Here’s the almost anonymous A.T. writing to The Times, 19th January 1968:

    In your obituary notice of the late Mr. Warner Allen you do not mention the books he wrote describing his “journey on the Mystic Way”. The best known of these books was The Timeless Moment in which he gave some account of a visionary experience that for him “flashed up lightning-wise during a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Queen’s Hall “. In this split second of time he received (as no one reading his books can doubt) a flash of absolute reality that broke through the normal barriers of the conscious mind and left a trail of illumination in its wake. Mr. Allen never claimed to be an advanced mystic or profound philosopher. He described himself as an ordinary man of the world. He spent years unravelling the implications of his strange experience. The resulting volumes were and are of extraordinary interest.

    Amen. Warner Allen’s was a Timeless Moment, an ego-loss indeed!

    I must have been fifteen or so when I had the great good fortune to meet and be befriended by this extraordinary man..

    Ursula K Le Guin and a schooling in magic, mystery

    Thursday, August 29th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — the magic of names, the mystery of creation ]

    Let’s begin with Russell Moore, controversial president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:

    He’s concerned about deep fake, or more exactly deepfakes, in which AI is used to develop model of people’s faces, which can then be manipulated to “make them” say things the real people wouldn’t say and haven’t said. There’s a fairly well-known TED talk that explains:

    The speaker, Supasorn Suwajanakorn, mentions towards the end of his talk that he’s working on software called Reality Defender, while DARPA is running a contest to catch deepfakes and other AI trickery.

    Boom!! — we’re in the realm of untruth so subtle it can fool both ear and eye, so we can no longer trust that seeing is believing. Indeed, Charlton Heston’s Moses could no doubt now be persuaded to come down from the mountain and declare:

    Thou shalt make unto thee fake images, and any likeness of any person that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

    From a strict Christian perspective this would be blasphemy — but fun from the POV of Dawkins and the antitheists, and entirely feasible from the perspective of digital manipulation of existing video.

    And in Russell Moore‘s terms, the fundamental distinction here is between he who is the Truth, the Way and the Life, and that which is the Father of Lies.


    Which brings us to Ursula K Le Guin, and her magnificent work, Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula grew up in the household of her parents: her father, AL Kroeber was of the great wave of anthropologists trained by Franz Boas, while her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was also an anthropologist, celebrated for her 1961 book Ishi in Two Worlds, based on her husband’s curation, around the time of the First World War, of Ishi, the last surviving member of the Californian Yahi tribe.

    Le Guin, then, grew up in the household of the UC Berkeley Professor of Anthropology — a household visited by numerous other anthropologists with their tales of shamans and the varieties of magical practice around the world.. Not surprisingly, her vision of magic in Earthsea corresponds with that of many varieties of shamanism..

    Here we are dealing with magic as deep truth, or deeptrush, so to speak. And Le Guin‘s definition of magic is to know the true name of all that is.


    Here, it seems to me, we are in the realm of the Prologue to St John’s Gospel:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    with its extraordinary conclusion:

    And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us

    And returning to Le Guin, we find the nature of Word as True Name spelled out in its cosmic glory:

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    Can we also hear in Le Guin‘s words that therein lies the deepmagic?


    And quoting from that video clip:

    He who would be the Sea Master must know the True Name of every drop of water in the sea.

    Magic exists in most societies in one way or another. And one of the forms that it exists in a lot of places is, if you know a thing’s True Name, you have power over the thing, or the person. And of course it’s irresistible, because I’m a writer, I use words, and knowing the names of things, is, I do, magic. I do, make up things that didn’t exist before, by naming them. I call it Earthsea — and there it is, it exists!

    We’re close, here, to Genesis 1.3:

    And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

    Here, as Tolkien noted, the human creator works within the greater work of creation in which she partakes.

    Switch to our mobile site