Audiobooks: Part 1 – How it all started…

As everyone should know by now, I am something of a reader. At least I try to be. It’s not always easy to find the time, and I am admittedly a slow reader, but the important thing is to somehow schedule enough freedom to carry on the exploration of enough of the world’s fascinating books… and thus certain strategies have evolved with which I can make the most of my limited lifespan and still absorb as much as possible…

Well, on this blog I have thoroughly gone over my love of comics, and occasionally I like to share various reviews. Now the time has come to express my love of yet another literary medium: Audiobooks!

I currently have a special love for the audio format of storytelling, and it’s only been a few years since I have gotten into it. The brilliant thing about it is that you can listen while waiting in line at customs, or squished on a subway car, or jogging, or any number of transit platforms for a life ever on the go.

Personally, I have a rather low attention span and it is still something of a surprise that I have become so into audiobooks. I don’t recommend it for everyone. But if you do grow out of listening to the same songs on your shuffle endlessly, it’s a good method to mix it up and keep the mind active on boring commutes.

My best advice is to simply download a favorite book that you’ve already read–and only the best books are worth rereading–and experience it anew via a talented actor reading you a story.

Besides, isn’t that the purest form of storytelling? Oral traditions are how it all started for humanity, long before the invention of writing. Right?

 

Anyway, a cursory glance at my Goodreads audio shelf shows that I have apparently listened to about 80 separate works. Some shortened, some lengthy—

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=audio

 

Not bad, or so I should hope. But, you may ask, how did I start upon this path?

I believe it was in that 2012/2013 era, when I thought I had grown up and established all the hobbies I would have in my adult life. Fortunately there was still more to learn, new habits still yet unfounded.

Now, before I even got into the more book-length audio format (after a brief interest in talk radio) I used to listen to a variety of fascinating psychedelic lectures. This was during my mid-to-late twenties, back in California. I was especially interested in Terence McKenna and his take on psilocybin mushrooms as per extraterrestrial intelligence and the like. That sort of thing.

(Somehow I did miss the boat on podcasts. From time to time some good ones are recommended and I listen, such as Hardcore History or a good NPR story, but for the most part I am an audiobooks boy)

So there I was, and I had in my possession a digital library of the complete series by noted author Robert Anton Wilson. I enjoyed listening to his “maybe logic” philosophy, his take on reality tunnels and the mystical secrets of the mind, but eventually I had run out. However, there on the entirety of the set, I noticed that the great Illuminatus! Trilogy was included. Unabridged.

Hmmmm.

Back then, the only audiobook I had ever finished to was a CD of Neil Gaiman’s youthful tale Coraline, which I listened to on a cross-country train trip in my youth. It didn’t work at all; I was constantly distracted and had to rewind. Didn’t seem to be for me.

But surely the legendary epic that is the Illuminatus! Trilogy would be different? The classic conspiratorial farce is a series that I revisit from time to time in my life, gaining new wisdom, and I was about ready for another reread.

And reread, or rather first-listen, I did. The whole thing. And it was awesome. The first installment of the trilogy was best, even after they changed narrators for the final two thirds. The grand appendix was just like a psychedelic lecture anyhow, and from that day on to today I carry with me the memories of productively learning much secret knowledge of the universe while walking around the neighborhood.

 

 

It gave me such an interesting perspective to hear fresh voices which had previously existed only been in my head . The timing, the intonation, such a different interpretation compared to what had come before. I really loved it. My mind was sharp on many a long otherwise boring bicycle ride back in those months. I retained the whole info-space in a new way, and I dare say–at least temporarily–I was as much an expert on RAW as anyone.

Here, you don’t have to listen to the entire piece but a random skim may give an idea here:

 

 

I had discovered a whole new time-consuming hobby. The next step was to I had to figure out what to listen to next. There were a few options. Abridged books or short novels, poetry or radio dramas, so much to choose from.

I decided to go big, and the next major listen was the crucial postcyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. At 17 hours I still contend that this is the greatest audiobook of all time, as read by actor Jonathan Davis. Hilarious, entertaining, exciting, and simulteneously shockingly intelligent.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Politics and conspiracy theories, a personal note

The world keeps getting crazier, and I keep having to blog about it.

I give in. I am now officially a political blogger. Sorry about that.

While I am not qualified to be a proper journalist or columnist, I hope I do have something of an interesting point of view. As an American abroad who just likes to read and has a bit of an international background, I’ll share. It’s my perspective, after all, and while I’m hardly the most knowledgeable person in the world I still may have something interesting to say on occasion.

For this week’s post I’d like to talk about the current prevalence of conspiracy theories—or as some would prefer the term conspiracy fables—in the current national dialogue. This issue is in fact near and dear to me, as I have been a fan of such mythology for many years. Honestly, I am shocked that the fringe stuff me and my friends researched back in the early 2000s, which I always thought should be taken with a grain of salt, is now taken very seriously by the mainstream. Yes, the mainstream; if you won the election then you are officially the mainstream.

I feel like my favorite underground band sold out, and sold out bad.

So here’s my story. I happen have the privilege of being able to claim conspiracy theory subculture even before 9/11. I have been fascinated by all kinds of things since I was young, and perhaps it was even a bit gothy to have an interest in the occult. Certainly nerdy. Oft times I lurked the metaphysical section of my local bookstores, and absorbed much.

Honestly, look up my old conspiracy bookshelf on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=conspiracy

One crucial book that comes to mind is The Biggest Secret by noted crackpot David Icke. Yes his whole reptilian thing is a joke and the British in particular like to mock him. But his books are interesting as a sort of thought experiment in combining every New World Order/Illuminati theory into one arch crazed mindset. All those UFO ancient astronaut theories, mixed with the extreme far right and “law of attraction”-eque New Age. It’s certainly… something.

51d5ibnfi2l-_sx364_bo1204203200_

 

It was in those books that I first heard of the child abuse allegations that are now so big on reddit. Basically, I thought the idea that world leaders where all pedophile Satanists to be a highly improbable worst-case scenario and not worth taking too seriously.

What I still really appreciate about my reading at the time was discovering Robert Anton Wilson, who co-wrote the epic conspiracy satire novel(s) The Illuminatus! Trilogy. RAW, in a valid mix of philosophy and psychology and science, taught that everything is subjective on some level. That there are many optional reality tunnels, and the only rational way to make it through the paranoia of conspiracy theory subculture is by way of the radical agonistic.

514vainca5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

 

And then in the autumn of 2001 it happened. 9/11 changed America and changed the world, as we all know. At the time it seemed to actually confirm some suspicions that global government and authoritarian martial law really was just around the corner. I don’t know, perhaps the weirdness bubbling under the surface in the late 90s wasn’t so much predicting the future but rather Jungian collective unconscious. Who knows.

The Bush years gave a lot to be paranoid about. First there was the stolen election, then the mandatory patriotism right after the attack, and eventually an anti-war movement which never gained enough steam as the neocons invaded Iraq. There was much to protest, even if the protesters stayed in the fringes. Eventually history proved that the WMDs were a lie and it was a tremendous mistake to nation build in the Middle East. You’d think the main antiwar movement from the time would now get more credit since then instead of the new far right.

As a thoroughly self-righteous collegiate, I ranted on Myspace about the evil government. And, while hopefully maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism, I posted links Infowars articles and watched Alex Jones documentaries about how 9/11 was an inside job…

41r1cgendgl

 

During the Bush years, any alternate media source was appreciated. The thing about conspiracy theories though, is that we’ll never know for sure. If something is truly covered up, one can speculate but claiming to know for sure is dangerous. Still, I was a media junkie and wanted to consider as many sides as possible. I also listened to talk radio and watched Fox News and read heavily-cited books by liberal journalists. In trying to be an independent, I was no democrat and often took up the libertarian viewpoint.

There was a lot of overlap between libertarians and conspiracy theorists in those days. The Ron Paul candidacy in 2008 even seemed hopeful. Alex Jones, while obviously nuts for the most part, did seem to be one of many sources worth at least slightly considering. He was supposed to be against all government, smashing the false left-right paradigm, an interesting character if nothing else. Now it’s all gone to hell and it turns out the worst elements of the so-called movement, like complaining about feminists, was the only side that stuck. Infowars is currently a partisan hack website that only cares about one side of the aisle, becoming even less of a viable alternative media source.

I guess it was because I moved to China during the Obama years that I didn’t realize how extreme America was getting. Although I tried not to be partisan, I certainly had to eventually conclude that the democrats are the lesser evil (if one must get into lesser and worser evils). Criticizing Obama was fine by me, on for example issues of Wall Street. But being a racist asshole saying he’s secretly an illegal immigrant was not fine by me.

I grew out of the need for fringe conspiracy theory information, choosing to instead indulge in more evidence-based reading material. I have gleamed some valuable information about the Bilderberg Group of Bohemian Grove or the Federal Reserve or what have you, but it was time for me to take that and move on. I had gotten enough out of it, I questioned the system and all that, and then I was to learn about the world in a more realistic light. Little did I know how bad it was getting in the meantime.

An article about how many of the online libertarian scene completely sold out (or lied all along) to become the alt-right: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/09/how-the-alt-right-became-racist-part-2-long-before-trump-white-nationalists-flocked-to-ron-paul/

Well, here we are in the horrifying political year of 2016, and I may have been premature in considering conspiracy theory websites to be irrelevant.

It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Fine, they always leaned right, but this has gotten ridiculously hypocritical. Logically, if someone believes that 9/11 was perpetrated by the government then isn’t that a bigger deal than where Obama was secretly born or Hillary’s emails? I do not understand the priorities of conspiracy theorists anymore. I suppose most of them were bigots the entire time, easily switching from the old Birch Society days with the ‘Jews run the world’ narrative to contemporary fears of Muslim infiltration; the fact that they were anti-Bush for a while was the aberration.

 

Here we are now in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, and I have found myself arguing with grown adults about Pizzagate. Here in Shenzhen. Can you believe it?

I’m called a sheeple, and weird counterculture types support the tyrant monster that is Trump, because of Pizzagate.

That’s how bad it has gotten.

I’m loathe to even get into it, but here’s the Snopes if you don’t know already: http://www.snopes.com/pizzagate-conspiracy

Mostly I find it unbelievable that artist Marina Abramovic is a cannibal member of the Illuminati. Seriously, it is a dark theory and must be a red herring even if one does believe that the government is filled with pedophiles. A deep-level misinformation campaign perhaps. All in all come on, that’s just not a rational reason to support fucking Trump.

But the Internet has spoken and reddit can’t stop it and humanity is officially doomed.

 

Continue reading

Why I Write

http://www.whyiwrite.net/2016/01/ray-hecht/

 

Ray Hecht

South China Morning Blues 

Ray Hecht is an American author based in Shenzhen, and blogs at rayhecht.com. Raised in the American Midwest, he studied film in Long Beach, California before moving to China in 2008 where he divides his time between fiction writing and freelance journalism. South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015), a story of depraved expats within the hypermodern southern Chinese sprawl, is his debut novel.

 

Why I write

That is the ultimate question, isn’t it? I don’t truly know the answer. Perhaps because I am a lonely person and I got into certain habits and now after years of this I am compelled. I want to express myself, I have enough ego to believe that others should read what I write, and it’s just a part of what I do and who I am. I have these things in my head and this compulsion to write it down and I hope beyond hope that people would like to read.

 

How do you go about writing?

I try to write every day. When a long-term project is going, I write about four days a week on a decent week. Good weeks more, bad weeks less. To me, it’s not about hours so much as word count. Five hundred works at least, or a thousand words on a very productive night. That may take hours or it may take 30 minutes.

I like to stay up late, because that’s the time when everyone leaves me alone. That magic time from midnight to about 2 a.m. I used to write later, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with a night owl lifestyle these days. That’s when all the original words come to me, and the next afternoon I tend to do rewrites.

 

Where do you write?

I like to lay down in my bed in my underwear with the laptop. I remember the old days when I had a big PC, it was much harder to motivate myself. The laptop is the most perfect invention ever…

 

Worst distraction?

…excepting, of course, that the Internet is the absolute worst distraction ever. If left to my own devices I tend to constantly check my email, Facebook, news sites etc. Porn isn’t even as bad as social media. Sometimes though you just have to unplug and force yourself to finish a deadline. Unless there’s research to be done.

 

Best inspiration?

I suppose I’m inspired by various things. A good song can inspire. A book, a show. A crazy life experience can especially inspire. Most of all, combing through my own memories of complex life issues and mix and match it into new combinations; somehow that give me ideas about what to write.

 

How often do you get writers’ block? Do you ever doubt your own ability?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. However, I doubt my own ability all the time. When I compare myself to the major authors whom I respect, I am not in the same league at all. But I’ve chosen to write and even if it’s shit I have vowed to finish what I started.

The thing about writer’s block is that I always have more ideas than I have time to write them down. It should always be that way. Instead of being choked by the blank page, I suffer more from sheer laziness. Writing can be mentally exhaustive, and although endless ideas are swirling around in my mind, sometimes I don’t have enough energy to record and tinker with those ideas.

 

Contemporary writer you always read?

I always read new Haruki Murakami and Neal Stephenson. Murakami isn’t as good as he used to be, frankly, in my humble opinion. Stephenson is such an insanely prolific writer that it takes me longer to catch up with his latest thousand-plus tome then it does for him to write, yet I always do try to catch up.

 

Favorite book on China?

Speaking of which, Reamde by Neal Stephenson is a great book that takes place in China, full of hackers and gold-farming. He really gets it right.

 

Favorite Chinese author?

My favorite may be Su Tong, and especially his novel My Life as Emperor. Written very matter-of-factly and full of cruelty, it rather haunted me.

 

Favorite book?

There are several books that have supremely influenced me. I’m going to keep it in the realm of fiction: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is the ultimate irreverent yet smart novel, with so much energy. I know I’m not smart enough to write science fiction, and cyberpunk in particular, I am purely a fan with no desire to emulate.

I have to mention The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea which sent me on a lifelong journey to figure out what the hell is going on in the world.

As for literary inspiration, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama are works that have directly influenced how I string words together…

 

Favourite writer?

As for other mediums, I would like to say that comic book writer Grant Morrison is one of my absolute favorites. Able to write mindfuck profound postmodern comics, as well as fun superheroes, and I am very envious of his abilities.

 

The book you should have read but haven’t?

I am currently trying to find the time to start Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I have a feeling it’s going to be a tough one.

 

You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

Wow I was lucky!

 

How did you get started writing?

I scribbled on occasion when I was a kid, more interested in drawing than writing. When I was in school I decided to study film on a lark, and I didn’t really finish, but I decided I like prose more than screenplays because you can be alone. I decided to write novels when I was twenty-three years old, wrote several, and then almost 10 years later it worked out.

 

Does writing change anything?

I suppose it changes your social life, because friends and loved ones can’t understand why you are always avoiding the outside world. It’s worth it though, I hope.

 

What are you working on now and when is it out?

Well, I’m still working on promoting South China Morning Blues which is currently out in Hong Kong and beyond.

I have another novel in the works, a full draft is finished, and it’s not about China. It’s about how technology effects relationships and I got the idea from last time I visited America and observed as an outsider the whole Tinder dating thing. If I’m incredibly lucky it will be published in less than a year. A lot has to fall into place. I believe it will be published eventually. Wish me luck!

 

Continue reading