PREVIOUSLY… I got Long Covid, badly. Mostly hit me neurologically; Parkinsons’s and ME type symptoms. Then my wife got anal cancer. She’s been in remission for 2 years now, thank fuck… and we’re rebuilding our lives from that, slowly.
Meanwhile, we watched, isolated and housebound, as pretty much everyone else in the world who wasn’t a crip just decided to say Fuck Masks. Genocide as convenience. While literal fascism roams the land.
As a result of this, my magic has become more… militant. I say no more.
Yeah, so not had many spoons, as they say.
But as the year is ending – and also my infrequent newsletter is having to shut down because Mailchimp are cunts – I’m making a resolution.
To write shit down. Keep broadcasting when I can. Here, mostly.
I’m on as many of the non-Twitters as are reasonable (I hate Instagram the most, Bluesky, fucking Facebook or dear Tumblr probably easiest for me to actually see it.) But if it’s longer than a not-tweet, I’ll say it here.
Because I am angry, scared and so very disappointed in my fellow humans for the most part and am disinclined to take any shit from them, ever again. And I will keep talking, keep writing, while I still can. I have the hardware and nous to keep going if my neurology worsens.
I will therefore remain to remind you that this bitter old cunning-man, somehow about to turn 60 years old, is far from done.
After all these years of pain, fear, illness, rising literal fucking fascism and the worst of cyberpunk futures without hardly any of the good bits, I have come to a realisation. Well, a working model for me that fits the data.
This is Hell.
Once I realised and accepted that, the symbolism of that path kicked in hard.
It mostly stemmed from the continual use of it as a process and metaphor in Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, which as I mention below has become to me what The Invisibles is for most chaotes – it combined so well with my stuff.
The process is called Catabasis. And you know how I love those cat puns.
At least while I walk through Hell (symbolically – only places I walk outdoors these days is to and fro doctors), life itself is not awful here. We’re both as well as possible considering, our son’s here for the holidays, I’m on a good drug regime for the symptoms.
And oh yeah I FUCKING KICKED FENTANYL.
Been on patches since the spine started some nine years ago – only thing that controlled the level 10 shooting arm pain – and was just left on them after the 2017 cyborg operation until my GP realised they could possibly be adding to my chronic fatigue and so we agreed to wean me off that shit.
I have to say my mood – which has ranged from black humour to black horror to black depression (to thankfully occasionally loving horniness with the missus which keeps us both stable, frankly) – immediately improved. But then again, they put me on that ol’fashioned morphine to wean me off the fentanyl and I also have weed so I am currently feeling pretty fucking good, to be honest. At least, the constant roar of pain is a murmur for now, so I can rub two brain cells together for once.
I had lost my optimism completely, in my catabasis. But now I remember the old battle-words…
We do not fight Nazis because we think we will win. We fight them because they are fucking Nazis.
Solidarity with the fighters for freedom under fascism. Yes, that includes Palestine, and oppressed Jews. It especially includes trans, non-binary and queer people. I think you may have gathered, crip people especially.
It includes any victim of those beliefs which Iain Banks condemned – any cause that makes children die.
Fuck them. The Useless Eaters will outlast your neglect and contempt out of pure fucking spite, one by one, until we go.
But that’s the thing about disabled people… life just keeps making more and more of us.
Anyway, on to more cheery stuff to see the new year out.
I read a lot of fiction. Because of my spinal injury, I have to read books solely as ebooks, on a tablet strapped above my head in bed, and that posture’s good for the cyborg spine bits so I read a couple of hours every night. Only fiction, or there’s a higher chance of bingeing-until-dawn/taking extensive notes like I’m on the fucking Rocinante on the float. (I stop on good cliffhanger chapters.)
Honestly, half of what I read this year was fairly generic genre material off Kindle Unlimited… but of the good stuff, I’d recommend…
A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys – a very queer and trans friendly cozy post-apocalypse first contact story. Rich, deep, reads like silk. Just wonderful.
Conquest by Nina Allan – another banger by one of the most underrated women in Brit SF, this one a quietly told tale of a possible alien invasion only detected by a small group of late C20 conspiracy theorists (who, synchronistically enough, all seem to have lived in my various ends in Kent and South East London!).
The Exoskeleton Quartet by Shane Stadler – This is an extraordinary set of books exploring the human condition, always the core goal of SF, but it comes with a huge content warning because the first book is roughly 80% body horror about using a medically connected exoskeleton on condemned prisoners to automate causing severe agony in order to force out-of-body experiences… the detail on this is described very precisely. But if you can bear such, it goes to some amazing places, and a fuckload of Nazis die horribly.
I’m a big fan of Gareth Powell, but I hadn’t read his earlier work so his breakthrough Ack-Ack Macaque series was quite something. Crafty and vicious dissection of war, VR and politics through its titular Spitfire Ace and all-around bad-ass macaque.
Kirsty’s reading has tilted heavily towards queer romance as comfort food, and occasionally points me to some. I’m glad to see the biggest genre in the world open up and be accepted more these days, as there’s some excellent writing to be found. My favourites were The Unholy Trifecta series by AJ Sherwood (mostly gay but occasionally bi pairings of assassins, mercs and thieves with both civilians and their mutual battlefield adoption of a young girl who’s at least as smart as they are) and Colleen Cowley’s Clandestine Magic trilogy, a retelling of the early days of American Women’s Suffrage but in a universe where magic
A. works and
B. supposedly only men have it… and the woman who discovers that B. is a lie.
Another discovery was the work of qntm, a male Brit writer who debuted in the SCP Foundation forums with his short pieces, later fixed up into the book There Is No Antimemetics Division. Intensely clever but always readable, he delves into the impact on our world of anti-memes; ideas that do not want to be remembered or passed on, and take active measures to ensure this. All 4 of his novels are wonderful and I’d say Ed is the easiest entry point.
I liked Grant Morrison’s debut novel Luda well enough right up until the ending. Which was meh.
This was the year I discovered a sadly deceased woman SF writer had penned one of the all-time great time travel series. Kage Baker’s The Company runs to some 12 novels and 5 novellas, the last story published some 3 years after her death in 2009. These are just so damn clever. A megacorp discovers 2 world-changing pieces of kit: time travel (with limits) and immortality (with limits). In order to mazimise the profit from these, they recruit kids at the point of their deaths throughout time and send them back (often further back than their birth time) as immortal cyborg operatives to basically steal historical artefacts… and what happens when several groups of them rebel.(That time-travel-for-profit trick also pops up in our beloved St. Mary’s Priory series by Jodi Taylor, which continues to delight and, as usual, had a novel and a Xmas novella this year.) It smartly keeps the focus throughout the series on a handful of characters – one of whom, The Botanist Mendoza, becomes one of the all great heroines and so much more. A wonderful discovery, and a sad loss.
And, as I have every year since publication, I reread Gnomon by Nick Harkaway, which has become for me what The Invisibles was for practically every chaos magician in the Nineties, except not deliberately. (Although Nick is certainly smart enough to note that writing a book about alchemy and synchronicity is likely to be conducive to both.) I learn more about myself and my times on every read. I also read his latest, Titanium Noir: much shorter and less obviously complex, it’s a lean noir tale of a world where the rich (known as Titans) are, due to a side-effect of the immortality drugs only they get, physically huge. Guts capitalism with a stiletto.
Lots of telly – I praise the saints that someone got to make Slow Horses properly and that it’s a hit – and the usual constant FPS as my wellness sim.
Finished first Starfield run after wife let me get new XBox as early 60th/Xmas present. It was pretty fun, but buggy as fuck. Like life really – ooh, deep!
I really enjoyed Dead Island 2: found the Londoner character Jacob convincing and it’s a joy to play, like a less finicky Dying Light 2 – and funnier.
And a special shoutout to my online tabletop RPG groups. They’re the majority of my social life and I am so damn grateful for them. Extra big love to Tom and Matt, our GM’s.
So, you know, it’s not like Hell is that bad for me… but that constant hint of sulphur in every news item or development in automated callousness in the service of the TESCREAL fuckwits pervades everything.
Fuck them all.
Happy New Year.
May it bring you at least what you need, and only what you can bear.
First off… thanks for those who wrote back about One Thousand Days. Glad it struck a spark with folk, both crip and abled.
One of the things I mentioned there was my increasing involvement with other cyborgs and various disabled communities (god that sounds like some awful care home doesn’t it? I’m sticking with ‘crip groups’ thanks).
As a follow-up, here’s a piece I wrote for r/cyborgs_only: I’d been talking a bit about the Shrine of the Useless Eaters with Cy and she asked for my thoughts.
As I wrote this during the process of doing 1k Days, there’s come overlap; hope it’s still of some interest nonetheless.
I figured the easiest way in to a spirituality which didn’t require a religious adherence and was thus available to atheist/agnostic people was ancestor veneration in a kind of chaoc magic approach; and, as my old pal Ru Callender (who has a book out about his work as an alternative undertaker) taught me, we can choose our ancestors just as much as we choose our family-of-choice, creating ancestral lines of kith instead of kin.
TOWARDS A CYBORG SPIRITUALITY
I became a cyborg on 11 December 2017ce.
The procedure was a double discectomy with fusion of the C5 to C7 vertebrae, as a result of burst discs and the need to remove bone spurs from inside those vertebrae which were growing into my spinal nerves. This neurological damage was causing both severe shooting pain in both arms and a massive loss of sensation in my hands. (And also, a complete lack of humour re. Donald Trump jokes about his bone spurs.)
The operation was as successful as possible. The awful pain stopped, and most of the sensory loss in my hands was regained. Plus, I got a really sexy scar on my neck, and could give as answer when asked why it was there, that ‘I had my throat cut by professionals’.
I could and can still feel the place where the titanium was bolted to my skeleton, where the double helix latticework surrounding it was fusing with my bones. Last week, while thinking about the Borg Diem project, I came up with the term ‘Interfascia’ for that place ‘where the metal meets the meat’.
The other word I offered was ‘Borgods’. They are the subject of this piece.
Before I was a cyborg, I was a crip. Was never a healthy child (actually blinded by hay fever conjunctivitis at the age of 9 for a couple of days, always prone to flu and such, then diagnosed as Type II diabetic at 40 by developing gangrene in my foot after a martial arts injury). Diabetes leaves one prone to other ailments: in my case, Dupuytren’s Contracture (‘trigger finger’) and early onset arthritis in my knees.
I was also, I regret to say, involved with what Cy would now call Tryborg culture. I was one of the people involved in a web-based side project from the comic book Doktor Sleepless by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez. The book is set in a near-future where DIY transhumanists – known as Grinders – attempt to upgrade their bodies with whatever they have to hand. The book became a major influence on the biohacker movement.
Sorry about that.
(And even sorrier that Ellis was later outed as a serial sexual predator, using his fame and power to manipulate literally hundreds of women.)
But before all this, I was a nerd and a practicing magician.
My interest in what I usually just call ‘weird shit’ began at the age of seven, and persisted throughout a life which has had some quite odd moments. Because this began in the early Seventies and I was a working-poor kid, my resources were scarce. The local library was kind and gave me adult book access very early (Aleister Crowley before you’re ten is… educational). But British TV and other media at the time was rife with supernatural oddness, with shows like Children Of The Stones, Ace Of Wands, The Changes, Sky and others firing my imagination, alongside books by the likes of both Colin and Robert Anton Wilson, various fringe materials such as Chariots of the Gods? and Bermuda Triangle conspiracy theories, and the rise of paranormal celebrities such as Uri Geller.
A huge SF and horror nerd already, my paranormal experiences and love of low culture media combined into something I later discovered was being paralleled by magicians in Leeds and London; a form which eventually became known as chaos magic.
A key aspect of chaos magic, for those who don’t know, is that belief is treated as a tool: something which can be adopted and maintained fiercely for the duration of a magical working and then simply dropped and swapped for something else. As the system drew heavily from SF and fantasy (its eight pointed Chaosphere symbol from Michael Moorcock, the colours of magic associated with each point from Terry Pratchett), the use of pop culture characters as entities to be invoked or even worshipped was common.
My first exposure to the idea that we could create and work with new gods came from a Jewish atheist SF writer, Harlan Ellison. In the introduction to his 1975 collection Deathbird Stories, he wrote:
“As the time passes for men and women, so does it pass for gods, for they are made viable and substantial only through the massed beliefs of masses of men and women. And when puny mortals no longer worship at their altars, the gods die. To be replaced by newer, more relevant gods. Perhaps one day soon the time will pass for Jehovah and Buddha and Zoroaster and Brahma. Then the Earth will know other gods. Already we begin to worship these other, newer gods. Already the Church fights to hold its own. The young grow away from the old religions, the world seems to swing between the old and the new; more and more each day, interest in the occult, in the magical, in the phantasmagorical surges to the fore, leaving priests and rabbis and ministers concerned where their next god will come from. This group of stories deals with the new gods, with the new devils, with the modern incarnations of the little people and the wood sprites and the demons.
The grimoires and NECRONOMICONs of the gods of the freeway, of the ghetto blacks, of the coaxial cable; the paingod and the rock god and the god of neon; the god of legal tender, the god of business-as-usual and the gods that live in city streets and slot machines. The God of Smog and the God of Freudian Guilt. The Machine God. They are a strange, unpredictable lot, these new, vital, muscular gods. How we will come to worship them, what boons they may bestow, their moods and their limitations; these are the subjects of these stories. A New Testament of deities for the computerized age of confrontation and relevance. A grimoire and a guide. A pantheon of the holiest of holies for modern man. Know them now – they rule the nights through which we move.”
They certainly ruled mine.
Eventually, this would lead to a career as a Fortean journalist (I was the first to write longform on the Slenderman phenomenon and later covered the Waukesha tragedy caused by belief in that hyperreal entity for Fortean Times), involvement in political action (first in queer politics then opposition to Dominionist Christianity, the parent of the current Q and Proud Boy movements) and involvement with a series of public magical workings with a political leaning, such as various ceremonies connected to the British Discordian revival of interest in the work of Robert Anton Wilson (a lifelong crip due to childhood polio and a huge Star Trek fan) and several workings to curse the fascist Brexit project alongside the art-rock band The Indelicates.
With this as background, I would like to share some of my approach to working with gods – both known to be fictional and alleged to be historical – as a way of engaging with disability and cyborg existence.
When I fell ill in February of 2020 after giving a talk on magic and authenticity in London, I figured the flu-like symptoms would pass. When they did not, I thought I could handle the feeling of constant illness for a few months – I had dealt with the spinal problem and my cyborg transformation, I could handle this…
That was two and a half years ago. My condition, a form of Long Covid with neurological symptoms, got worse. And, in the midst of the strange times that awful disease has wrought, alongside the rise of blatant fascism worldwide, I fell into a deep depression.
Through lockdown and ever since, me and my wife (who has had ME/CFS for all of our nearly thirty years together and saw much that was painfully familiar in my condition) have had a tradition of making Sunday nights Date Night. We would make a nice meal and take turns choosing a movie to watch together. Often, these would be documentaries (not some folks’ idea of date material, but we both love learning new things – Neophiles, in Bob Wilson’s term). One that hit us both especially hard was Crip Camp (2020), about the early days of disability activism. This birthed in me a need to be more active in crip political agitation, but in our condition, there wasn’t much we could actually do aside from be grouchy on Twitter.
Then I picked out a Date Night film I had been interested in for some time: Marwencol (2010).
The film is a biography of the artist Mark Hogancamp, and his singular creation which gave the film its name. After a brutal mugging led to severe brain damage, Mark (like so many crips) had to develop a set of highly personal mental and physical approaches to his new existence. In his case, his toolkit was to build in his garden a hugely detailed model town in 1/12th scale, populated by customised figures of the GI Joe/Action Man variety.
This was partly a physical therapy, a way of redeveloping his hand/eye coordination using readily available hobby materials, but in developing the deep history of Marwencol (his conception of a small Belgian town occupied by the Nazis and then freed by a combination of American GIs and local resistance fighters), he was able to confront the trauma of his attack… by envisaging the various brutally killed Nazi figures as his abusers.
Whether he knew it consciously or not, that’s as direct a piece of sympathetic magic as I have ever heard of.
Back when I had the gangrenous foot, I was under enforced bedrest for about two months while the foot healed from the debridement of the rotting meat there. (Debridement – such a delicate term for such an agonising procedure to wake up from.)
While I lay in bed with this Cronenbergian vaginal opening granulating slowly, I acquired an XBox. I soon found that first person shooters were, for me at least, a kind of wellness sim. I could be someone who could walk! Run! JUMP! And gun down countless enemies while doing so. It kept me calm while I healed, and my love for FPS continues.
In the midst of my Long Covid depression, I had watched helplessly as the far right wing’s grip on the modern world tightened. The path from the Sad/Angry Puppies furore at the Hugo awards, the GamerGate ructions and their sequels, QAnon, Brexit mania and Trumpism seemed a clear line, and one with no good end.
I took again to my gaming habit, deciding an apt replay would be the modern reimagining of the Wolfenstein series. The modern incarnation is a far cry (yes, I also like Far Cry) from its 8-bit origin; the hero B.J. Blazkowicz now a philosophical warrior-poet fighting in a resistance in an alternate universe where the Nazis won and dominate the world.
Luckily – or perhaps fatedly – I found the limited edition of the game with the 1/12 scale figure of ‘Terror Billy’ was still available. And once I had my hands on this plastic incarnation of a character who, in the game New Colossus, becomes a cyborg from the neck down, I had an idea.
There seem to be an awful lot of cyborg protagonists in first person shooters. John-117, the Master Chief in the HALO series; the variously shaped and gendered incarnations of V in Cyberpunk 2077 – the synchronicity of the male version of V in the game sharing my name was not lost on me. And Adam Jensen of the Deus Ex prequels; whose often-memed line in the first game is for me a fundamental difference between us and the tryborgs…
“I never asked for this”.
Although I lacked both the money and the space to build an entire village of 1/12 scale cyborg heroes fighting the fash, I could at least make a small shrine to these new cyborg gods. My own private Marwencol.
As there was a space on my bookshelf opposite my bed where my Warren Ellis comics used to live, I felt that was the perfect area for something… righteous. Something I could see when I woke up every day, to help me get out of bed and get on with my life.
I gave up the idea of relative scale, but I did want one more 1/12 figure to balance BJ, so I went old school and acquired a vintage Steve Austin figure.
(The original Martin Caidin novels that The Six Million Dollar Man drew from were a lot stranger than the show, its Bigfoot encounter notwithstanding. For example, in Cyborg IV – published the same year as Deathbird Stories – Austin has his bionic limbs and sense organs removed and the interfaces used to join him with an armed space shuttle, making him a living spaceship.)
I picked up an Adam Jensen figure and one of Vic Stone aka Cyborg from Justice League and Doom Patrol; Luke Skywalker and Seven Of Nine joined them. And then I realised the shrine could also be not only an altar of sorts, as well as a visual symbol of resilience I sorely needed… it would connect to the long line of anti-fascist resistance fighters, and a memorial for all those lost to the Holocaust. So I expanded the remit to include other disabled heroes (Charles Xavier, Deadpool) as well as Jewish, Romani and trans exemplars. If I couldn’t find a figure that I could afford or fit in the space, I stuck a picture of them on the fake brick wall backing. I also included pictures of Hephaestos and of ‘actual’ cyborg heroes – Douglas Bader, Viktoria Modesta.
Upon that wall, I put the awful Nazi term for those they considered disposable, the ones that Niemöller forgot, the ones they truly first came for, a phrase I wanted to reclaim in the same way as we have the word ‘queer’…
The idea of ancestor worship is perhaps one of the oldest of human religious impulses. Many cultures would elevate their Beloved Dead to a form of higher spiritual significance, even to full godhood. In the various African Diaspora religions and magical systems such as voudon, this kind of elevation is still common.
From my experience with the Shrine of the Useless Eaters and half a century of working with spirit-like-entities ranging from classical gods and demons to the likes of John Constantine – while never quite believing in them, treating them as an interface to the unknowable Wyrd – I would suggest that honouring our cyborg ancestors of all stripes would be a good place to begin building a spiritual practice for cyborgs.
One advantage of this approach is that step backwards from full belief that chaos magic encourages. Allowing for the most atheist of us to play with these concepts, the ’psychological model’ of magic where the weird shit us mages do is just a set of tools to trick our brains into different kinds of functionality. As chaos magic’s unknowing godfather, Austin Osman Spare, used to say:
“Treat all such phenomena as if they are real, not as real”.
And as Alan Moore, who not only created my magical colleague John Constantine but also had a couple of odd occasions where he met him in the real world, once said:
‘The one place Gods inarguably exist is in our minds where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity.’
We can draw on our borgods for strength in times of crisis; we can invoke their characteristics into ourselves as needed. And we don’t have to ‘believe’ they are ‘real’: it’s a false dichotomy, as false as the one that separates our prosthetic parts from our meat and bone parts.
They are all Us.
(Much of my thinking around disability, cyborgs and magic comes from three friends and colleagues: Craig Slee aka Mr. VI, writing in Cold Albion, AI ethicist Dr. Damien Williams and my sensei David Southwell, creator of Hookland and founder of Folklore Against Fascism. I remain in their debt.
Written to Michael McCann’s score for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.)
For reasons I hope are self-evident, in this list, I draw no distinction between heroes and villains, ‘people’ and monsters. I do (mostly) draw a distinction between traumatic and elective cyborgs, leaving out the majority of the latter: a list of elective cyborgs would include pretty much all the secondary cast of Cyberpunk 2077, Deus Ex, Ghost In The Shell, half of Doktor Sleepless… and could be considered as try-and-succeed-borgs?
Nuada Airgetlám (‘the Silver Arm’); first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Silver arm was built by Dian Cécht.
Osiris; after his murder and dismemberment into 14 pieces by his brother Set, his wife Isis recovered his parts, except for his penis, which had been eaten by fish. Isis made him a strap-on.
Pelops: Greek hero, lost shoulder blade replaced with ivory construct by Hephaestos.
Freyja, Norse goddess of beauty, fertility, sex and war: wife of Odin; often described as weeping red-gold tears – her acclamation as a cyborg appears in the paper ‘The End Of The Human? The Cyborg Past And Present’ by Carole M. Cusack, as a post-Haraway riff.
-a version of her appears in the anime Cyborg 009 as a villain.
Vishpala, warrior-queen mentioned in the Rigvela: she lost a leg in battle and got an iron replacement The princess Vadhrimati lost a hands; gold replacement made – in both cases ‘by the gods’ (though my Hindu mythology is scant, there may be more on both these…)
Tezcatlipoca: his lost right foot replaced with obsidian.
Steve Austin/Jamie Summers/Barney Miller et al, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-offs
-Half man. Half Machine. yadda yadda. A new FPS game with Peter Weller back in the role is coming soon. ) I note the not-great remake had Alex Murphy played by Joel Kinnaman, who also played Takeshi Kovacs in the first season of Altered Carbon – see below.)
-For my money, the best being Cameron Baum, played by Summer Glau in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sorry, Arnie. (Though I must also mention Catherine Weaver, a T-1000 played by Shirley Manson.)
The Daleks and Cybermen and various other villains in Doctor Who
Root, from Person Of Interest.
-The first acolyte of the first artificial intelligence/god known only as The Machine, she integrated with The Machine first through data received via Bluetooth headsets, then by an updated cochlear implant installed after being tortured by the US intelligence officer known only as Control. If you haven’t seen Person Of Interest, I highly recommend it; not only is Amy Acker’s performance amazing, so is her eventual fate. And it’s much better than Westworld.
Adam Jensen: Deus Ex . He never asked for this.
V and Johnny Silverhand: Cyberpunk 2077.
Vic Stone aka Cyborg: member of both The Justice League and Doom Patrol at various points.
Seven Of Nine, Geordi Laforge, Airiam, Keyla Detmer, Sam Rutherford et al, Star Trek
Anakin and Luke Skywalker, General Grevious etc. You know where.
Master Chief and the early generations of Spartans in the HALO games.
Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Camina Drummer in The Expanse. Beltalowda!
Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier
Deathlok, Cable, no doubt several other Marvel characters, including Tony Stark post-Extremis. (I don’t keep up with the Big Two at this point.)
Frankenstein’s Monster!! Because of the electrodes (not bolts) in his neck.
Cliff Steele aka Robot-Man in Doom Patrol
BJ Blazkowicz, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.
Molly Millions, Johnny Mnemonic and others in William Gibson’s Sprawl stories.
(Funny how Keanu’s played two cyborgs named Johnny… woah.)
Jane #57821 in Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer
Battle Angel Alita
Motoko Kusanagi in various versions of Ghost In The Shell
–SO many in anime!
The Tin Woodman in Oz
Helva, The Ship Who Sang: protagonist of the Anne McCaffrey series. One of several ‘brainships’ constructed from deformed babies whose growth was further restricted, and then grafted into titanium shells to be fused with spaceships. (NB how Steve Austin also became a spaceship for a time.)
The Shrike, aka the Lord of Pain, Angel of Final Atonement, Angel of Retribution from Beyond Time, in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos: a six-armed metal beast of ferocious killing ability, including the use of time travel in combat. Based on the DNA of human officer Fedmahn Kassad.
Takeshi Kovacs, and many other characters in Altered Carbon. (Sadly, the author Richard K. Morgan is a huge transphobe – ironic in a series where consciousness is commonly downloaded into different constructed body ‘sleeves’ of all genders…)
Murderbot. Seriously, you need to read Martha Wells’ Murderbot Chronicles.
We3: cybernetically enhanced military project turning a cat, a dog and a rabbit into killing machines, who escape and seek freedom. One of Grant Morrison’s (they/them) most heartbreaking comics.
The Company in Kage Baker’s time travel series: orphans kidnapped by a Time Police organisation, turned into immortal cyborgs.
The Peripherals in The Peripheral (both William Gibson’s book and the TV show, especially triple amputee Connor Penske) and the Marine Haptic soldiers therein.
Many characters in Shadowrun (I have to note here the truly unpleasant trope in that universe that the more cyberware one has, the less ‘soul’ one has. Originally a game-balancing mechanic to stop players making vastly overpowered cybermages, the implicit ableism was somewhat corrected in later editions.)
Mad-Eye Moody in Those Books By That TERF Woman.
John Probe aka M.A.C.H. 1 in the early issues of the classic 2000 AD comic. Probe, (Man Activated By Computopuncture Hyperpower) was a Steve Austin rip-off with more violence and moral ambiguity.
5th century B.C.E. (via Herodotus) Hegesistratus, a Greek soldier, lost a foot to torture; wooden prosthesis
-fought for the Persians against the Spartans who mutilated him
M. Sergius Silus (via Pliny), a Roman veteran of the Second Punic War against Carthage, wore an iron hand.
Ivar The Boneless: Viking warlord, famed for his many successful attacks on Britain. Appears to have at least worn metal splints for walking (does so in the TV show Vikings). The subject of a new novel by actor and disabled activist Nabil Shaban.
Gotz von Berlichingen. In 1508, he lost his right arm in the Battle of Landhut. He could afford to buy two technologically advanced iron arms with locking hand positions. He used his good hand to set a series of springs and releases so he could manipulate the artificial hand.
Tycho Brahe and his metal nose
James Edward Hanger: US Civil War veteran and engineer who upgraded his prosthetic leg and passed on the tech.
Douglas Bader: English WWII pilot who lost both legs in a plane crash. Captured by the Germans, escaped, was recaptured and sent to Colditz Castle, the infamous prison for escapee POW’s. He insisted to the commandant that not only should he keep his aluminium legs, but he should be permitted exercise walks in the countryside… during which, he stuffed the legs with Red Cross aid package chocolate and passed it around the local German civilians to subvert the population.
Viktoria Modesta: if you’ve not seen her Prototype video, treat yourself. Played a fine villain in the show Killjoys.
Oscar Pistorius: perhaps the most problematic fave on the list, what with being a murderer and all.
Ruby Rose (she/they): the John Wick star suffered an injury while playing Batwoman on TV and had the same spinal operation that I did… and had to return to work a week later. She left the show after one season, citing this and other issues with the production.
“To a new world of gods and monsters!’
-Dr. Pretorius, in The Bride Of Frankenstein
Despite the predictions (and hopes) of some, the early 21st Century of the Common Era is not a time of less religion than before – 85% of the planet’s population profess to hold some religious belief. But… some of those beliefs are a long way from orthodoxy.
As a result of the rise in popular culture in the last century and the increasing speed and density of communications media to carry it, the modern world has a plethora of stories – avowed fictions among them – about religion, myth and magic to chose from. Increasingly, peoples’ beliefs are directly affected by these stories. Some believers take metaphorical comfort and confirmation of their own orthodox beliefs from them, some incorporate part of pop culture into their belief system… and some even take these fictional tales and treat them as the basis of their own new religions.
New Gods And Monsters is the story of these stories – how they began, how they became popular, the influence they can have on us and what they imply for a future seemingly ridden with religious strife.
This will be an expansion of my previously published thoughts on hyper-real religion, Slenderman, multi-model occultism and basically everything I care about, heavily revised and re-examined – plus a lot of new material on how mythology and stories intersect our modern world.
I did a podcast a couple of days with my friend and fellow Grinder Mikey Pirate (who is totally not the leader of an Asteroid Death Cult): we talked about the usual stuff – hyperreal religion, metafiction, Trickster Gods, Slenderman, Babylon 5‘s Rangers and why those who cosplay the Engineers from Prometheus might not be the nicest people to have over for a cup of tea.
Next week, I’m giving two different talks in London on two consecutive days:
22nd April, I’m speaking at the Royal College of Art’s Battersea campus (RCA students only, sadly) on neopaganism, the hyperreal (again), authenticity and Midsummer. Details here.
On the 23rd, appropriately enough, I’m giving a talk on ‘Robert Anton Wilson – Gnostic Agnostic’ at the University of London’s Senate House Library’s ‘Marginal Presences’ Symposium – there should still be tickets available for this, and you can learn more here.
I am pleased to be able to post the video of my 12 February 2015 Treadwells talk on ‘Science Fiction’s Gifts to Paganism’. My huge thanks to the Treadwells staff as always, especially to Marco Visconti for filming and editing the talk.
The YouTube video went live on 27 February – tragically, this was the day Leonard Nimoy died. Out of the huge respect I had for the man, and how he embodied the concepts of IDIC which I explored in the talk, I waited to post this until now.
(And, not long after, Terry Pratchett also died. I’m glad to have given both these gentlemen some small tribute here.)
As some of the audience requested, I have a few footnotes on the talk below.
On 3 December I gave a talk at Treadwells on about how Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos – both in his hands and in those of his contemporaries and followers – had been a surprisingly potent influence on modern occultism. It seemed to go pretty well… for the first time ever, a talk of mine was both sold out and had a ticket waiting list!
Sadly, plans to video the talk fell through, but there was an audio recording made: you can listen to it here:
Quite a few of the audience asked for a list of footnotes and links for the stuff I referenced, so here we are.
First thing is the bit of research I didn’t get the chance to do… ST Joshi’s mammoth Lovecraft biography, I Am Providence, which looks fascinating. (I did read some of his shorter essays, though – start here.)
My main source for the history of chaos magic and HPL’s influence was The History of British Magick After Crowley by Dave Evans: it’s not specific about the influence of Robert Anton Wilson on the original cohort, but his thought is clearly present.
If you haven’t done it already, read Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. If you have, then read it again. And if you ever get the chance, see the play.
If there’s any specific questions about the talk, please drop them in comments.
So, this happened… I wrote the cover feature for this month’s Fortean Times.
Ever since I first read FT as a kid (when it was still a fanzine rather than a professional monthly), I had a dream that I’d be in its pages some day – maybe in an article about weird shit, possibly in a review or even a memorial in the Strange Deaths column!
To not only be commissioned to write for them, but to get the cover first time out, is literally a dream come true – and the highlight of my writing career so far.
Huge thanks to FT editor David Sutton for asking me to write for them, Jenny Coleman for her interesting alternate view of Slendy alongside my piece and Etienne Gilfillan for the beautiful cover art.
And… I’ve been commissioned by Fortean Times to write a feature on Slenderman for the next issue. This is a big deal for me, to put it mildly. I hope to do the subject – and the fall-out from the Wisconsin tragedy – justice.
It’s a strange world, and getting stranger by the day. Be safe out there, folks…
I had the great pleasure of giving a talk about Slenderman (based on my two Darklore articles, but expanding on the practical occult aspects) at the celebrated Treadwells bookshop in London on 25th November 2013ce. Now, the video of the talk is available on YouTube.
If I can clean up the audio, I’ll post the Q&A session later.
As I had a few requests for it, the transcript for the original script is below the cut – but you’l have to watch the video for my hilarious improvisations and my appalling Alan Moore impersonation!
This year’s book is another stunning collection of the best of modern Forteana – and it also contains the second half of my look at the way the Slenderman meme is infiltrating the ‘real’ world.
This piece, Killing Slenderman, looks at what this could mean and what to do about it – taking on such examples of the fictional entering the quotidian as Alan Moore’s meetings with his own creation John Constantine, and Grant Morrison’s near-death experience writing The Invisibles.