Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
I’ve watched all the trashy TV. There’s none left. It’s either wait for them to make more, or watch a documentary about aluminum foil. The Circle? F-Boy Island? The Turkish remake of Honey Booboo? I’ve seen them all. I’ve seen the Ninety Day Fiance spinoff where Big Ed tries to sneak a Cambodian child through customs. I’ve seen The Real Housewives of Dubuque on Iowa Public Television. And it goes without saying I’ve seen every cult show, from the one about Japanese suicide cults, to the Married at First Sight / FLDS crossover. Desperate, I turned to the world of self-publishing to satiate my unquenchable desire, and the first thing Amazon hurled into my sarlacc-maw was this. Life After Life: The Book of Magic Knowledge is a book about the nature of the universe, life, death, and esoteric vocabulary by Melinda Jones.
The story revolves around Ian, a suicidal young man with a girlfriend named Inna. She takes him to see her guru, Master. He seems to be instantly on board with the whole thing, but we don’t really have time to get any confirmation that he’s cured before the SWAT team shows up and starts busting “terrorists.” Master is the head terrorist (“You shaman,” as one of the cops calls him, because that’s definitely a real insult made by a real human), but Ian’s cure is undone, and he finally gets around to killing himself. Everyone is super bummed, but we have no time for them, because we are treated to Ian’s journey through the afterlife, an allegorical odyssey that features both astral karate and interplanetary karate, which are apparently different. There’s a lot going on in this book, but I’ll go over some of the key points of the first few pages. Basically, when you have bad emotions it sends bad jellyfish thetans after other people. But also you are affected by your own negative emotion jellyfish thetans, and you could reflect other people’s bad thetans if you were positive enough, so it’s ultimately your fault. We see this play out when Ian overhears one of his “rivals” badmouth him by saying that Ian is gay, and he had sex with him. This really seems like a self-own if you’re the sort of person who thinks it’s not cool to be gay, but for some reason Ian takes issue with this feeble attempt at a diss, giving us a front row seat to how the bad juju jellyfish work. Apparently women can use this process to emotionally manipulate people, because their “emotional core is stronger.” We also get drivebys of the various Abrahamic religions (termed “egregores” here, more on that later), represented by angry clouds. Ian settles down to a conversation with his ghost grandparents in pergatory, who blame civilization (i.e. slavery) for the sad state of the world. There’s so much more, but I’ll cut it off there, because the most cursory summary of the whole plot would take forever and you wouldn’t believe me anyway.
I really don’t know where to begin with this one. Once I made the initial mistake of trying to figure out what the hell I was reading and why, the rabbit hole proved to be more labyrinthine and bottomless than a Wookiepedia article about space toast. Want to know about Enochian ritual? Better google chaos magick. Want to know what that is? I hope you’re up on your neo-pagan hermeneutics. Just to give you a taste of the personal version of that tilt-a-whirl from The Sand Lot I’ve been dealing with, I tried various combinations of buzzwords, and got a hit on “Osho” and “egregore.” It was a blog rant with a healthy application of caps lock, and appeared to be Russian, which was very exciting because of the Russian names in the early chapters of Life After Life. I’ve found Melinda! But no, this blog was decided anti-Osho, linking him to NWO underground bunker builders who seek to spread Satanism and shut down blogs that expose them. I would link to it (shockingly the NWO hasn’t taken it down yet), except that it’s more anti-Semitic than Mel Gibson asking for a discount. Some outstanding questions include: who is Melinda Jones, what is this book trying to do, and who is it for?
I spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out who Melinda Jones could be. The book is obviously written by someone who speaks English as a second language, and it’s not Indian English. Phrases like “day-today,” “into even a deeper dream,” and “‘Now then,’ started her story Sapphire” point to a European origin. The book has some Russian names in it, and the website it’s pushing (see below) is run by a German. As fun as it is to finally put those years of teaching ESL to use, I can’t blame this book on a lack of English ability. The characters fail to behave like human beings at such a fundamental level, I can only assume they spend the whole book converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. I can’t even figure out what this book is trying to sell me, because I cannot figure out what religion is even being hawked (especially since they won’t get back to me about the seminars).
Who is New Religion for, in general? Besides that girl you know named Becky whose profile picture is her in a sari clutching a heavily drugged tiger cub. The target audience is anyone on the spectrum between “disenchanted and high” and “vulnerable and in pain.” No doubt Jones’s way-too-effusive ARC reviewers fall somewhere on this tragic rainbow, insisting that reading and re-reading this book saved their careers, marriages, and in one case a cocker spaniel. That seems like a long time to hang onto an ARC, but maybe Melinda was in no hurry. In many cases, people come out of these new religious experiences having made some improvement to their lives, and in some cases they don’t. I’m not a doctor and this isn’t your anti-cult podcast of choice. The main issue comes not from how ineffective a cult might be at solving the problems people bring with them into the cult. Hell, whiskey has solved none of my problems so far, and I still consult it every time I have a question about the universe. But whiskey makes no promises, and waits patiently on the shelf. I mean, my whiskey does promise that it is “gluten free” because this is the stupidest of all possible worlds, but other than that, it’s pretty unobtrusive. Self-improvement cults become a problem when they seek out susceptible people, promise them the moon, blame them when things don’t go well, get them to freeze out their other support networks or medical professionals, and milk them for all they’re worth. Life After Life doesn’t do all of those things, but it comes close in a few places.
It’s clear which kinds of vulnerable people are being targeted here. The whole issue of suicide deserves thoughtful commentary and empathy, but instead gets pseudo-science delivered by the Swedish Chef. “People who commit suicide do so because they do not understand themselves, their tendencies, and the people around them.” But don’t worry, Jones “spoke with many leading psychiatrists and psychologists.” That’s one of the things that makes me wonder if this book was written by a space alien: the idea that you can just say that medical professionals vetted and approved your work, and expect people to believe you. It’s part of a larger doctrine preached in Life After Life, that the key to success is simply to trust in your teacher, some of whom openly have “superpowers,” and who can conveniently be found offering seminars on the author’s website. “All you have to do is concentrate on the teacher and receive what he gives.” Doctors just give you pills, and friends just tell you to put down the tiger cub and run.
Melinda Jones, or whoever is the author of Life After Life, is a blatant monorail salesman. The book combines every cringy new age trend with every cult gimmick, which kind of makes it interesting as a compendium of Every Bad Thing. But I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone spend money on it. As for the seminars, I tried to sign up on their website, but they never got back to me, which is a mystery. Anyone could look at me (or my Uber Eats cart) and see that I don’t have any functioning-support-network-thetans. Maybe I just have a bad aura. As before, post will be spotty for a few weeks this summer. Feel free to keep recommending books to fill my vacation TBR. The punishment helps to counteract the inherent guilt I feel at doing anything remotely fun.
Follow Madeline Kalvis on Twitter
My wellness webinars all just turn into mok-bangs because I cannot not eat on a zoom call.Tweet