The Octavo (Roundworld Edition):
A Sorcerer-Scientist’s Grimoire
Peter J. Carroll, Mandrake, 2010
Peter Carroll’s latest book pays further tribute to the creative genius of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld while continuing Carroll’s synthesis of magic and physics. The Octavo’s eight chapters tell how our “Roundworld” universe is constructed in ways corresponding to magical operations. Many familiar ideas from Carroll’s previous works are represented along with fresh insights encountered by the author in recent years. Appendices include a sort of field manual for the Knights of Chaos, a Chaos magic activism initiative; the Mass of Chaos E (for Eris); and rules for Sorcerer’s Chess, which replaces the rooks’ pawns with assassin pieces able to move in “real” or “virtual” space. Matt Kabryn’s excellent digital illustrations are unfortunately too dark in print to show many of their fine details.
The trick to getting along with this book is to remember that it is a grimoire and while The Octavo exhibits more formulae than any of Carroll’s previous books, it does not succeed as a work of science. Statements such as “the Astral consists of the wave (and field) functions of reality,” are analytically indeterminable; we cannot evaluate their truth. To mathematically describe magic is to invite predictions and measurements, but by the end of Octavo, there are not enough data to show that magic works by the mechanisms and constraints Carroll presented. Perhaps with peer review and more rigorous experimentation Carroll’s intuitions, speculations, plausible truths, and anecdotal evidence will develop into authentically-scientific models of magic.
Instead, Carroll provides a variety of ritual exercises for readers to test his bold assertions within the laboratories of our own nervous systems and sacred spaces. As a work of sorcery, where things may be what they are not, Octavo blends the author’s knowledge of advanced (and often extraordinary) physics with his experience as a magician of many years into an interactive story that changes the sorcerer’s view of his or her world, and so changes the world created through his or her magic. Carroll’s formulae, whether or not they denote legitimate laws of magic, are useful reflections on magical activity in light of contemporary understanding of How Stuﬀ Works, and as new ritual design patterns.
My fear is that since Carroll seems to be attempting to explain how magic really works, scientists will accuse him of exaggeration and fallacy (but note that heresy often heralds revolution), while sorcerers will mistake his creative blends for proof of the accuracy of their beliefs and efficacy of their rituals.
My hope is that everyone may learn to wield the Sword (analysis) and Pentacle (synthesis) together as adroitly as Carroll has, and that many will be inspired to advance our craft rather than dogmatically maintain it, re/constructing magic in our new and future images of ourselves and the world. Recommended.