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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Faulkner: As I Lay Dying

As I Lay DyingAs I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulker is a strange one. He really is. Honestly, I can see why people don't get him. He's hard and no one wants to read hard things, at least hard things that make no god damn sense.

Here's the thing: Faulkner makes sense. Perfect sense.

First, I think we should talk about this darn "Stream-of-Conscious" term that gets thrown at the old man. Now, you've got people like Joyce that, if you ask me, write whatever the hell comes out of there head and pass it off as meaningful. Of course, when we talk about about stream-of-conscious we are usually going to see talks about "death of the author" being brought up.

Basically, it doesn't matter what the author meant because we each bring our own tools to the table and get whatever out of it. Stream of conscious, then, is the purest way with which we can apply this collegiate term.

But however interesting and fun and right talking about "death of the author" is in relation to "stream of conscious," it's also the easy way out here.

So, anyway, does Faulkner use this stream of conscious thing? A little. He uses it so we can better get into the heads of the characters. But he also writes outside of that, inserting his own narrative voice into the fray.

Of course, his sparse punctuation and his constant switching between the 10 cent word and the 25 cent word can sure make things hard. However, this helps a little. In some ways he is being comical, I mean, things literally could not be worse for this family. The mom dies at the hottest point in summer after a fucking monsoon and then the cheap-ass father decides to walk 40 miles to fulfill her dying wish, all the while she starts to stink.

It's a play on Greek Tragedy.

Anyway, this story is tragic and comic. It has moments where you can really feel the sadness of passing, the pain that comes when a loved one dies. Then there are other times when Faulkner messes with you, black humor style.

Sure, this is a great book, but don't take it so seriously just because it is so well loved. Remember, the best authors have a sense of humor. Even if it is a little off-beat.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Gaiman: Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys (American Gods, #2)Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate Neil Gaiman. I hate him in the way I hate le Guin or Moorcock or Rothfuss or Faulkner or de Maupassant or PKD or Gibson...

The list goes on.

Hell, let's throw Vonnegut in there. Tolkien too. Ovid and Homer, for a little spice.

I hate them all, but Gaiman probably brings out the worst of my depression and envy.

I mean, the guy has his missteps, for sure. Sometimes he plays his hand at the end and lets us know too much, but...I mean, come on.

First of all, he's well read. Really well read. And my God can he play with myths. He's built his career on allusion.

Post-Modernism sure is cool.

He also married Amanda Palmer. So he's smart as hell, right. Good.

And, worst of all, he's the writer I wish I could be.

Joss Whedon too. I hate that guy.

I don't really have a review. I mean, what should I say? Gaiman is a damned genius. Moorcock even thinks so.

This book, like so many of his other books, is amazing. It is witty and beautiful and strange and dark. It has an effervescence to it. It's magical.

The worst is, Anansi Boys is funny. Real funny.

So, Gaiman can do anything. He continues to prove that.

So, go buy this book. Read it. Tell friends to buy it or loan it to them. Then read the rest of Gaiman's work and realize that writing is pointless. There is enough good out there to beat out the bad because the good is so much more powerful.

Peak. Did I mention him? Screw that guy too.

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Finding Inspiration

The other day I thought about houses. The kind you see on the side of the road, the structures turned black by rain and snow and heat and cold. The kind whose story has been eroded slowly, not unlike the way you can erase words on a page but still faintly see them.

I thought about those houses and was inspired to write.

So why am I writing about wanting to write instead of actually writing?

Because lately I have been depressed. I have been useless. I haven't exercised or read or written a single word. The fire is still there, but she is cold. She is tired, like me, but she is returning and with her I feel inspired. Like I've returned from a long trip, invigorated.

I know many writers and painters and musicians and artists feel the same. It's part of the territory I suppose.

But I wanted you all to know that, no matter how you feel, it gets better and when you think you've run out of ideas and that you've got nothing left to say, sometimes you must go out into the world and be of it, or read, or even sleep. Sometimes the workers need a break.

Remember, like punk musician Jay Reatard once said, "We don't have a limited amount of ideas in us, just a limited amount of time to get them out of us."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melniboné (Elric, #1)Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a fan of genre fiction is not easy. You have expectations that are set against you right from the start and it is easy to understand why. Explaining to people why someone like Moorcock is good not an easy task, especially once you get into the bit about summoning demons and dragons. People turn off around then and it isn't hard to see why.

There is a large culture in the fantasy community of people that argue about who is stronger than who, and what this spell would do in this situation if this other spell was cast at the same time. Basically, people talk shit instead of getting at the themes.

Reading, my friends, is not for pure escape. Never forget that.

In fact, Moorcock shows us this. He does this by combining a few different kinds of philosophies and challenging the readers sensibilities with them.

On one end, the character of Elric is a thoughtful man whose judgements and sense of morals seem rather Kantian. Elric is not concerned with the matter of ethics in a sense that may come off as completely ethical. The instance in which he allows for the torture of an intruder to get information is brutal. However, what makes this effective is that, in this instance, we see that Elric does this because he feels it will better help his people and that it is his duty as emperor to keep his people safe, even if he is, by and large, a different and strange emperor.

This too is Kantian. Elric is not driven by a desire to simply please himself, but by one to do his duty and do it morally. He feels guilt and sympathy and remorse, decidedly negative emotions that keep him from pursuing whatever he fancies.

It is when, later, that Elric decides to act more in favor of personal pleasure than a duty to his people that we see things go amiss. The forces of chaos are summoned, but even they are not exactly what one would expect. The demon Aroich is not fickle or insane only a trickster.

It is interesting to note that there is a struggle against nihilism as well. Elric rages and fights to be his own master, even disobeying powerful forces of chaos in order to demonstrate that he himself is his own master. This struggle against fate, this desire to prove that we are ourselves and masters of our own destiny is at once personal and profound.

Perhaps there is good reason for people to be skeptical of genre fiction, but there is also damn good reason to find it as beautiful and touching and life affirming as anything else.

In the end, it's all about people. All about humans, and what is more important than that struggle to understand ourselves, our world, and then to do something about it?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

If It Makes You Happy: A Guide on How To Respond When Someone Mock's Your Favorite Thing

Are you someone that finds themselves easily offended by the judgments that people make against things you really like? Perhaps that thing is a book, or a movie, or a TV show? Regardless, it really sucks when someone goes through all the trouble of constructing a criticism that is less than favorable in regards to your favorite thing.

Of course, when these things happen, and they so often do happen, there are a number of ways in which we can respond to them.

We can, of course, respond with a well constructed and thought out counter argument. We could point out the finer points of our favorite thing, draw attention to what it is that makes this favorite thing of ours relevant and important. In other words, we can create our own view and interruption and use that in defense.

But that shits hard, so what else can we do?

We can call them names, and boy does that make us feel better? I mean, fuck that guy for disagreeing, right? Hell, while we're at it lets just use the old adage of, "this is my opinion" so that people know that no matter what they say you disagree on a fundamental level.

What this really boils down to, after all, is that it makes you and others happy! And how dare anyone mock something you love, that so many people love, when it makes them happy. Never mind anything else. Never mind that it may encourage people to stay in abusive situations, or not be factually accurate in any fucking way, it makes you happy. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2)Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's hard to write a book, and a second book is all the harder. You now have expectations. You have something to live up to not only to your audience, but also to yourself. The fact that this book was a great follow up to The Lies of Locke Lamora, is really an amazing thing.

First and foremost, we should never forget that this series plays off of the bromance between Locke and Jean. Despite this fact, that is one of the most forward moving points of the book.

Since Locke and Jean don't really deal with some kind of existential enemy (minus the Magi which are a little absent) they have to be driven by something. Now, Lynch could have done this in a few ways. We could have seen them try to return to their former glory. This is actually explored early on when we see Jean trying to move forward by making a new gang, while Locke drinks himself to death.

This, however, is something just meant to demonstrate the difference in their grieving process. Whereas Locke has accepted everything that has happened and commits himself to depression, Jean has yet to allow such thoughts and therefore tries to go on, rebuild and recapture the past.

However, this was an easy out, one that Lynch was smart enough to avoid. Instead we see that Locke and Jean get into situations or peril because they cling to each other like a drowning man to a log. They are all they have let in the world, so therefore they will throw their lives away at a moments notice.

Even when Jean falls in love and commits to taking time off to spend with his lady, he is still not willing to allow Locke to die for him. Nor is willing to let him go into dangerous situations without him. It is this very foolhardy brotherhood that gets them into the most incredible of situations, be they stealing some paintings or going all in to get themselves cured of some poison.

As far as the theme goes, I'd say it doesn't get too far from the themes first put out in the first novel. The rich suck and use the poor as a tool, Locke and Jean say, "fuck that," and take what the can.

Richer and Cleverer than everyone else.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Mother Night

Mother NightMother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an altogether different beast than most other works in the Vonnegut cannon. That is not to say that it does not possess that same black humor, the same zany morals, and the same humanist views. That being said, it is distinctly lacking in some of the surreal, post-modern, narrative breakdowns that can be found in Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five. Nor does it possess any uniquely science fiction elements as are seen in The Sirens of Titan.

This novel, despite its minimalism, is altogether literary.

This is interesting because it shows something about both Vonnegut and genre writing as a whole. Yes, there are pieces as written by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, those of the "hard sci-fi" standard. Technical novels that, though good, lack a distinct philosophy. Yet, we also have the likes of Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick and, to a lesser extent, Asimov. Writers who fused the pulp with the literary.

This novel proves that Vonnegut is a force in the same way that Nirvana's Unplugged performance solidified Cobain as a songwriter.

Now, onto the book itself, yes?

This book is the story of World War Two and the horrible atrocities that were wrought in the name of hate in conformity. In his seminal work, Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut already told us there is no intelligent thing that can be said of war. Therefore, we must assume that the same can be said of hate.

This leaves us with the latter. Conformity is a big role in this novel. All the while the character of Howard Campbell is conforming to the roles that are placed on him. First is his an artist and a lover. He conforms to these roles with joy and with passion. However, due to the outbreak of World War Two, he finds himself conforming to the role of Nazi, propaganda agent.

This is done in direct response to another role he conforms to as American Spy. Secret one at that.

What does this all mean then, this conformity and exploration thereof?

Well, Vonnegut nails his own moral on the head. We are what we pretend to be. Howard Campbell pretends to be all these things, conforming to the roles with which he is given, and so he becomes this character. When at first he was a writer and a lover he was that fully and truly. However, when he spends his time writing slander against the Jews and working for the Nazi's. This is, ultimately, what he is remembered for.

This brings us to another point Vonnegut makes. We are remembered only for what art we produce. Indeed, this does seem true. Those that are most easily remembered are often the artists of generations past.

So then, when we are given these two points, what must we take away?

Perhaps we must take away that we should not pretend to be what we are not? Or, more cynically, if we must pretend to be anything, we must be sure that it is something history will look favorably on? That is, perhaps, the harder question.

Buy the Book Here: Mother Night: A Novel
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

V for Vendetta

V for VendettaV for Vendetta by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I'd not seen the movie first. That isn't to say the movie isn't good, but it is so stripped and watered down.

Here, in this comic we have a complexity. We have the chance to see someone breed and abuse another human and use pretty words.

We ask ourselves, is this the price of revolution? This violent and ugly thing? And of course it is. Revolution is inherently ugly and violent.

However, whereas the movie shows us that V is a hero of culture, the comic shows us that, despite a visionary and revolutionary, he is scarred. His mind is broken and because of that we must ask if he is truly the great man he claims to be or if the idea he represents is a good, wholesome idea or just another form of fascism, only this time one that hides behind a mask.

The psychology of this character is more akin to an anti-hero than that movie representation. Here we have a man that faced horrors and yet did not come out the other side, reborn as a phoenix, but rather he slithers free like a basilisk.

The truth of it is, what Moore explores here is not simply the danger of conservatism, but also the ugly face the revolution can have. He hides V behind a mask for this very reason, for if we were to see his true face we would see that he, like his goals, are frightening. They are as a mirror to the world we live in and the steps we must take to claim the one we desire.

We see a man who, much akin to Lenin during the Russian Communist revolution, fights with his goal in mind. He does not concern himself with the short game, but rather the outcome of the war he secretly wages. In this sense he is a true revolutionary and here Moore forces us to see the steps we must take, forcing us to choice between the comfort of fascism and the dark waters of revolution.

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or buy the book here:  V for Vendetta

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Mr. Miller, what happened to you? Seriously man. This, your Ronin series, and Sin City are so fucking good. Maybe a little too big on the concept of manliness, but whatever, you blend noir in with finesse that I can't imagine.

Oh well, when we think too long on what could have been we get ourselves a bit angry.

So, here's the deal with The Dark Knight Returns, with this singular comic we have the modern Batman. Of course there are some issues with that. Chris Nolan's iteration has its flaws, yet it is clearly the best Batman we've had since the Tim Burton films.

Here, Miller plays with the idea of a world that is dark and angry. One of filth and grime. And one in which Batman has called it quits. The problem is, of course, that the system has already been completely fucked.

Remember when Heath Ledger's Joker went on and on about how Batman created him? Well, he did. Because criminals are a direct evolution of our compensatory system, when you introduce some crazy, fuck-up thing then you get criminals who operate as a foil. To put it another way, back before the Harrison Act, people could easily go and by stuff like Heroin in a drug store. This may sound crazy and backwards as hell but, the thing is, those people that could go buy regulated Heroin for low cost held jobs, supported their family, and were over-all productive members of society.

It wasn't until it became illegal for people to just buy Heroin in a store that we got addicts running into the streets to buy cheaply made, yet expensive drugs from gangs. This is where we get the modern portrait of the drug addict.

Anyway, the thing is, when Batman called it a night, the criminals didn't. So, therefore, we have this dark, fucked-up city and no Batman.

It is through this back drop that Miller examines the obsession with Batman and something Freud called the Death Wish. This concept of seeking death through crazy actions and the like is something we see the elder Batman embody by repeatedly speaking of ways in which he could die as well as how he feels younger.

This ties into another idea that Miller looks to explore, the idea of the obsession of Batman, his battle with his demons, and the reflection that a character like Two-Face manages to show us.

Miller plays with the psychology of Batman in a way similar to Alan Moore. He shows us that Batman is a character who finds himself obsessed by the dark creatures that sneak through his mind. Just as Two-Face can never turn away from his own personal darkness, neither can Batman help by snake through the darkness looking for an escape or else someone to beat to a damn pulp.

In this comic Batman really is the hero the city needs, not the one it deserves.

Really, the only downfall in this story is the Superman. The concept of Superman being a sellout to the government is interesting and, honestly, would have worked if it was given some more room to grown.

Oh well, you know what they say about could have been's.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Myth of Superman

The Myth of Superman

The myth of Superman is one that embodies the idea of the American dream and experience. It is a myth of where we are in the reality of this country and where we imagine we could be. On one hand we are all interested in what we can do to improve our lot in life. Yet, on the other hand, we all feel the call to help others better themselves. However, what this myth shows us is the truth of this experience insofar as we are not willing to give up our own comfort for the sake of others. The myth of Superman is one that straddles the line between the real world and the imaginary, it is what shows us the hypocrisy of the American experience.
Superman, much like Captain American, has long been a symbol of American pride. He is an embodiment of morals, of the American sensibility, and all the great things that make the American people the best on the planet. His is a humble farm boy, hardworking, modest. Yet strong and powerful. More so, Superman is Christ-like in his appearance and his message. He is a statement against consumerism, though he lives in the world we live in. Superman is the mirror to our world, at once a myth and a focal point for who we are and want to become.
Superman appears to us a babe from the heaves and, as pointed out by Gustav Peebles in his own essay, God, Communism, and the WB, he is sent to us, the only son of Jor-El. Yet, the Christ analogy does not end there with Superman, as in is pointed out by Peebles. In one episode of Smallville, a series about the upbringing of Superman, “Clark appears on a crucifix,” (God, Communism, and the WB, location 1338). In yet another episode he is, “bathed in a halo of light,” (location 1338). In this way it is plain to see that Superman is no mere man, but he is a Christ figure, one to which we look up to. One that inspires us not to follow him, but to be like him.
Yet, how does this Christ analogy show us Superman as American? Superman is not merely a symbol used as Christian propaganda, but rather a display of the moral power that American culture hopes to breeds. On the surface, yes, we see Superman as the boy that fell from the stars to save us. Yet, more than anything else, Superman desires to be just like the average person. This desire to fit in is seen not in Superman, but in Clark Kent himself. A mild mannered, weak man who works a menial job, always trying to restrain himself, repress his own culture. Even when crusading under the guise of Superman, Clark looks not to be a messiah, but a force of good, one with which we aspire to be. This is something that we as Americans look to experience, look to achieve.
It is through this Christ analogy that we see the world Superman wants to present to us. A human being of moral upstanding who inspires us to live happily and without a desire for possession, but rather for the helping others. This can been best illustrated in the seminal Superman comic, “What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way,” written by Joe Kelly. In this legendary comic Joe Kelly has Superman replaced by a more radical group of superheroes. This group does not hesitate to kill those who do wrong and will not hold back from causing destruction. It is in this comic we see Superman deal largely with the real world, one in which people want safety and want the easy answer.
Yet, through this story we see Superman trick the world at large, destroying this radical group of superheroes, killing them. Here we see the shock of what the real world is when met with hope. It is here we find that, in the eyes of Superman, the American way is the way in which we strive to better each other and, as John F. Kennedy once said, doing things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Yet this is not the only way in which we see that Superman is a character that attempts to represent the American experience. When we see the character of Lex Luther in Superman, whether it be through the comic books, the films, or the cartoon, we are presented with a man that seemingly embodies an aspect of the American experience. After all, Lex Luther himself clawed his way to the top, making a success out of himself. He owns a successful company in Metropolis, he rich, can own whatever he wishes, and is a powerful, feared, and respected name to one and all. However, despite this money, this power, and this accusation of capital, Lex Luther is a bitter, angry, and despicable man.
At all turn Lex Luther attempts to undermine and destroy Superman, who, by comparison, is a happy, loving, an honorable man. The argument could be made that, perhaps, Lex Luther wishes to undermine Superman because his worries of an over-dependence on his power, that with such a powerful figure in the public eye there will be no progression. Yet, this view of their struggle is too simplistic, too convenient. The power struggle between these men is one based on class, one based on what we want to be, what we believe we can become and what we are at are darkest.
Superman is a working class man, a farm boy, and someone that, despite his power, holds no interest in capital or in money. Rather, Superman and is concerned with helping better his fellow man. He wishes to learn from his cultures mistakes and be a symbol of hope to his adopted culture and planet. Lex Luther is, of course, the very antithesis of this point, a counterbalance to the radical left that Superman represents.
In this way, Superman is a representation of the world that we live in. We must work, we must try to do what we can to get by. Yet, unlike Lex Luther, Superman does not spend time constantly trying to gain what he does not have. Rather, Superman lives in the real world, yet works for the world in which he wants to see. This dichotomy between the real and the imaginary is a thing that any American can experience. In the real world we always search that imaginary thing, that perfect world where everything is just, just as Superman himself does.
This dream that Superman seeks is exemplified best in this excerpt from a speech give by President Obama, “What is unique about America is that we want these dreams for more than ourselves - we want them for each other. That's why we call it the American dream” (Obama, Speech on the American Dream). Both Superman and the president believe the same thing in that the experience of every American is one where they want the best for themselves. The best jobs to support their families, the best education for their kids, and the best health care for when they are sick and, deep down, many of us want the same for others. The struggle, however, comes from the desire to want things to be easy on the level of the individual, even when that same sense of ease cannot be applied to everyone. In this sense Superman shows us the hypocrisy we all experience in the quest to reach this dream while also holding true to the old communist mantra, “each according to their ability, each according to need.”
Yet, even in this struggle we see the merging of two different and strange beliefs. On one hand we have Superman as the figure of Christ. The boy who fell to Earth to save us all. Then, on the other, we see Superman as the hero of the working class. A man obsessed not with wealth or anything so petty, but with bettering his fellow man and leading them to a better world. As noted by Gustav Peebles when speaking of Superman, “This odd fusion of beliefs recalls a time inverted from our own. When the political left had not yet entrenched itself in its cosmopolitan enclave and the political right had not yet entrenched itself in the countryside” (God, Communism, and the WB, location 1362).
This very fusion is one uniquely American. At once it calls for us to take up the cross and give love to Jesus and yet, at the same time, it calls on us to renounce our materialistic views. Superman is a symbol that calls us to free ourselves and, in that sense he is a perfect show of the American experience. He is, at once, an idea that we all wish to aspire to. Yet, at the same time, he is a mocking reminder of the hypocrisy of the American culture that calls on us all at once to be pious and giving, and yet greedy and impious.
Superman, much like ourselves, lives in the real world. One in which there is greed and hate and disgust. One in which people do not always do what is right or just for those around then, but rather what is right or just for themselves. Yet, all the while, he represents the America we all want to live in, the one we write the songs about. The myth of Superman, as Gustav Peebles states, “lies behind the hidden heart of American folklore and philosophy.” This is the truth behind Superman. He is the line between what we want to be and who we are. The mirror we look into in the morning so that we can see every flaw and, perhaps, his is the image that shows us just how much better we can be.

Works Cited
Obama, Barack. “Speech on The American Dream.” Bettendorf, Iowa. 7 November 2007.
Peebles, Gustav. “God, Communism, and The WB.” The Man From Krypton. Dallas, Texas: Smart Pop, 2006. Book. Location 1338 to 1345.
Peebles, Gustav. “God, Communism, and The WB.” The Man From Krypton. Dallas, Texas: Smart Pop. 2006. Book. Location 1362 to 1370.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

THere are a large number of people who aren't too keen on Vonnegut, and for reasons that I can easily understand. On one end Vonnegut is a science fiction/speculative fiction master. He was a moral force, so much so that when speaking of war in his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five, he said, "there is nothing intelligent than can be said about war."


That lone sentence is so powerful and provocative it hurts. Vonnegut says there, in a single sentence, what we all wish to say of violence, destruction, death, and hate. He does it so simply and so easily, as if that were the only thing to say.

Yet, on the other hand we have Vonnegut as the postmodernist. The man who plays with form and structure. The man who flashes from character to character, exposing details about each of them and laying it all bare.

This second side is the one that alienates people.

To many readers Vonnegut seems to be pretentious and nonsensical, yet one need only look at this work or Slaughterhouse Five to see just how important this style of postmodernism is.

Firstly, I will say this. When Vonnegut writes of a car salesmen he does so, in part, from experience. It is because of this that we can feel the realism, the pressures of the world and of society that so press on this man.

Now, Vonnegut is in this story is God. This may seem like an egotistical stance to take, yet, what are authors if not Gods?

It is because of this singular concept we get Vonnegut's brand of postmodernism. He is not merely recounting events and allowing them to be revealed through the actions of the characters, as we are so often accustomed. Instead, he is the creator himself, the one that knows the inner workings of their minds. He knows their past and their future and yet he is condemned only to watch.

This is equal parts genius and comedic, a thing that can be said of much of Vonnegut's works.

Yet another theme at work here is the that, when facing ourselves in the mirror-or leaks-we have only ourselves to face. We are not seeing a reflection but another version of ourselves, one that reflects us. Thus, when Vonnegut breaks the barriers of his world and asks of himself, "You're afraid you'll kill yourself like your mother, aren't you?" He has no chance but to answer, "yes."

Vonnegut's work is one that examines the human condition at its strangest and worst. He reflects us as we are and as we fear we will become and though there was a narrative drag in the story around the middle, this story is all about reflection and how we much be honest with ourselves. And so again, when the author confronts Kilgore Trout and asks him what he desires, he has no choice but to say, "to be young again."

View all my reviews or buy the book here: Breakfast of Champions: A Novel

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside MeThe Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Thompson's career as a pulp crime writer left him without much money, yet he was well renowned among those who were attracted to the demented mind of a serial killer.

Stanley Kubrick had him as a writer on "The Killing," (albeit, not giving him a writers credit) and has called this novel the most disturbing look at a disturb mind. I could not agree more.

Thompson's character of Lou Ford is a reflection of abuse. A character who has suffered at the hands of another and, years later, after having had these feelings of abuse fester like a wound, Lou Ford has become a killer.

Ford is smart, too smart to just be a cop. He reads often and wants to be a doctor, though he fears doing so would expose the monster he is.

He also has a girlfriend, one that he keeps primarily for appearances, but as the story progresses we see the human side of Ford.

What truly makes this novel interesting is just how brutal it is. How unflinching it is at it tackles the concept of sexuality, morality, police brutality, and physical and sexual abuse.

Even today, many have a penchant to blame victims of physical and sexual abuse. "You shouldn't have walked down that alley,"

"Well, wearing that you were asking for it."

Those same concepts are at play here and feed into the psychology of Ford. He is not some deranged maniac who kills for no reason except that he enjoys it. Nor is he some horrible misanthrope. There are many times where he feels himself at odds with the monster inside.

Lou Ford is a product of his upbringing and his environment, just as we all are and Thompson handles these complex themes with grace and finesse.

And if you need more, if it wasn't for this book you wouldn't have Dexter. Hell, Dexter is, at best, a reflection on a shallow pool by comparison to Ford.

View all my reviews or buy the book here: The Killer Inside Me

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fairies Moon: Page One Preview

   It happened, as most wonderful and fantastic things do, in the smallest and most insignificant of towns. Such was the case with the town of Farrow, a lovely little place that finds itself nestled in the heartland, where the hills roll on in endless green and the trees tower above as sentinel towers, ever watchful. Where bluebells, lilies, roses, nightshade, and a garden of other lovely colors dot the land, filling it with that picturesque scenery only found in a painters paintings or a poets poems. It was here, amongst all of this strangely perfect beauty, that the fair people(who seem to be much fairer than other folk) conduct their strange rituals of dancing before odd colored fires in terrific masks, chanting their odd chants.

  The fair townsfolk pull out the fulness of a feast prepared throughout the day during these festivals, conducted only when the moon bares its naked glory to the world. These feasts are filled with the most wonderfully cooked pheasant, with purple plums and pickled delights of all kinds. Rare fruits, brightly colored and possessing the illusion of shifting shades of blue, green, and violet, known as Stardust, populate every plate. Their sweet and intoxicating smell waft through the village, wisps of wind carrying them along and causing every person to salivate in anticipation for this slightly hallucinogenic fruit.

  This scene of townsfolk of all shapes and sizes carrying out tray after tray of beautifully prepared food was what Lisanna Limly returned to, dressed in a fine white lace dress with an academic posture about her. She had been gone for a solid five years to study far and abroad and now, looking out at the strange ritual that she had spent the majority of her life participating in, she felt nostalgia bloom within her. They were, she thought with a lazy smile gracing her lips, glued to their innocent superstitions and frivolous magics. They would never know, as she did, the origin of their words and their importance.

  But, she thought mildly, there is always a surreal comfort in finding a place exactly as it was when you left it.

  With one long and confident step Lisanna walked out into the chaos and called out to a man in black suit and a tall black hat, causing him to drop the tray of food that he was carrying, sending fruit and meat exploding through the air and skittering across the ground.

  “Ma' Lord, girl! Don't go scarin' a man like--wait a damned that you little 'Sanna?” asked the black hatted man, the anger pouring out of his voice as quickly as it had come.

  “Yes it is, Mr. Rutter. It is nice to see you're still as quick to yell as you are to smile,” she said, flashing him a full white smile.

  Carlyle Rutter gave her a broad, toothy grin and said, “Well, ya couldn't have picked a better time to come home, could ya?”

   Lisanna shrugged, “I suppose so.”

  “Now don't go around actin' so indifferent! This is everyone's favorite time-a year! Now why don't you head off an' go find little Neil? I remember he was awfully found of you and he'll be jumpin' and shoutin' when he sees you've come back all grown up and twice as pretty.”

   Lisanna's smile grew wider and brighter, “I suppose he might. Where is he?”

  “He ought to be floatin' around and takin' care of gathering up all the proper salts and dusts. He's apprenticing under the town alchemist, if you can damn well believe that!” exclaimed Carlyle, shooing her away.

   Lisanna strode in the direction of the apothecary, muscle memory taking her where she needed to go. As she went she could hear Carlyle shouting his head off and giving general hell to a couple of boys he had managed to con into cleaning up the mess that he had made.

  It all made Lisanna gloriously exultant. She had missed the chaos that this small town managed to get swept up in and the sweet aroma of the Stardust fruit mixing with the bitter smells of brewed potions, burning salts, and magic dusts of all kinds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Does Science-Fiction Matter?

Very recently Simon Pegg made some comments about science-fiction and fantasy novels and movies that, more or less, said that all of this over-saturation of comic book movie and science-fiction action film has dumbed down the whole of cinema. Naturally, many people have been hurt by these remarks. After all, Pegg is a nerd hero to many and for him to decry something that so many enjoy, well, it is fucking painful to see.

However, I do not intend to break down or explain his statements. I do not desire to argue, though it may well seem that that is what I am about to do. No, I merely wish to ask, is science-fiction and fantasy as moving or meaningful as the classics, both in regards to film and the novel.

Let us first look at the classics in questions. Before recent memory there was not an overabundance of comic book, superhero, science-fiction/fantasy film. That is not to say that they did not exist. Tim Burton's Batman, a film of over twenty years of age, is of course one of the most beloved superhero movies to ever exist. Yet, Burton does not direct this movie in the style of today's superhero blockbusters. Rather, he brings the training and eye of a classic filmmaker to the table, allowing it to transcend the bonds of the superhero movie and transform into a noir character study.

Yet, barring such examples, what movies really made a big impact on us? Why, it was films such as The Godfather, or Taxi Driver, or Rock, or even Fight Club for a more recent example. These were dark and gritty films that focused on the real as well a the surreal. They forced the viewer into a dark world and demonstrated exactly what the repercussions of a police sate could be, or the importance of personal freedom, of the dangers of a government that spies on us at all turns. They were character studies and were political by nature.

In short, these films challenged the audience to think. There was no other way but to think when you watched such films.

Then, in the blink of an eye, things began to change and that change was called Star Wars. Now, I will not say that Star Wars does not play with themes as it most certainly does, yet even Star Wars is a departure from the other films Lucas had made at that point in his career.

So, what was it about Star Wars that changed everything then? And, further, is there anything wrong with this change?

Well, Star Wars is, in many regards, the film equivalent to Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Both of these creations had multiple influences, some within the genre they inhabit and some outside of it. However, they were both trying to capture something grand, something that was perhaps lost. Whereas Tolkien hoped to recreate the power and depth of the long lost Epic, Lucas hoped to recapture the spark that was the Pulp story.

Both succeeded in their own rights and both are well loved for good reason.

However, just a Tolkien spawned the likes of Robert Jordan, Lucas wrought his own imitators (which, ironically, was himself in the form of hi prequel films).

Since the creation of such things we have been left with films that try to grasp at the depth and grandiosity of their inspiration, and yet somehow fall short. Yet another parable can be seen in the comic book industry as, since the creation of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, many have sought to get at the heart of Moore's work and yet they always miss out on his literary mind.

So, now that we see the history the question remains, do these new pieces of science-fiction and fantasy hold any water?

On the surface, no. They are pale imitations in most cases and at worst you are watching a Micheal Bay film. However, in many cases, one only need look a little deeper to see that there genres still have much to say and teach.

Without calling out the obvious names of Whedon and Gaiman, I will attempt to show that there are still a great many great things coming from the genres.

In terms of film, with the Marvel universe exploding ever outward, it is a wonder that something a brilliant as Captain America: Winter Solider could be birthed. Simply said, this film expertly tackles the themes of big government, of the danger of surveillance and of the militarization of the police. These are very topical and talked about social issues that we face today and for any movie, let alone a fucking comic book movie, to tackle them with any sort of grace is a miracle. Captain America does it with ease and shows that following orders leads us down a rabbit hole that may well bring our doom.

Even Iron Man deals with the concept of responsibility of the justice system, a theme we will see further explored in the upcoming Civil War arc of films, just as has been done in the Civil War comic books (like below).

Even outside of the superhero movie we have films like Ex Machina that tackle the complex issue of artificial intelligence and what makes someone human. Those Dickan (see: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) themes are ones not often tackled in any form and are best examined in genre films and literature.

In regards to books we have the likes of Susanna Clarke, writer of the elegant and excellent Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, a novel that inhabits the realm of fantasy yet still manages to be profound, well written, and expertly researched. Hell, even Gaiman proclaimed awe when first meeting and reading Clarke's work.

The likes of Patrick Rothfuss also hold onto the pillars of great fantasy that, be it the authors intent or otherwise, manages to tackle hard themes in clever, subtle ways. Then, for your science-fiction fix we have the likes of William Gibson who, even now, uses his strange and powerful language to tackle themes of technology and our dependance on it, drug use, street life, and cooperation corruption and power. Or Neal Stephenson who tackles similar themes, yet with the same zeal and bat-shit crazy attitude of the likes of comic book master Warren Ellis.

This is, of course, not to say that the classics are not masterful or profound. Or even that all genre film and fiction is a masterwork that deserves praise. Far from. What I am merely saying is that science-fiction and fantasy inhabit a very special world in which they can entertain as well as engage, which is a thing of beauty and rarity.

Were it not for the fantasy slant in Wim Winders film Wings of Desire we would not find any aspect of it to be entertaining as it is, yet were it not for his literary mind and skillful direction we would find that it lacks the depth that makes it such a masterpiece (in fact, if you want proof of that, go watch Wings of Desire and then watch the American butchering of it, City of Angels. No joke),

Everyone wants to be entertained, at least to some extent, yet it is possible that we can think while we are entertained. In fact, it is imperative that both happens at once because, lets face it, some people are not interested in art films. So, yes, there is an oversaturation and a dumbing down that can be linked to genre film, yet there is also an untapped potential that peaks through from time to time and shows that science-fiction and fantasy is not merely an escape, but rather a different route to the same end.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The StrangerThe Stranger by Albert Camus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a hard one to review. One one side of the tracks we have the expectation one has when first hearing of Camus, and especially when first hearing of his seminal work "The Stranger." Then on the other side we have what Camus himself believed of his work, a thought that opposed what his work has been regarded as his entire life and long after.

In the view of many, Camus' "The Stranger," is an existentialist masterpiece. The story of is the most ordinary of men who goes through his own life with little feeling about any one thing. When asked if by his girlfriend if he loves her he replies, "I suppose, but it's all kind of pointless."

The questions is this, why is he so apathetic?

Well, in part, this is because Camus dives into the absurd. The average person is lost in their life. They do not know much of what they want and when they are confronted with the absurd, only then do they find that they seek the truth.

So then, why is it that people believe that Camus to be an existentialist akin to his contemporary and friend Satre? Well, this is in part due to a semblance between the thought behind existentialism and absurdism.

With existentialism we see that it is absurd to betray our own morals and sense of self based on what society has deemed to be acceptable. Absurdism finds that these morals placed on us by society to be, well, absurd. The difference is that, while Camus finds these things absurd and explores what the average person experiences during such events, Sartre asserts that to put an end to these things knowledge and truth must be sought and that the simple act of being allows us to transcend our bonds.

So, what is there to say about Camus "The Stranger?" Is it an existentialist masterpiece like many of claimed, or is it the manifesto of absurdism that Camus believed it to be?

While this answer may seem a cop-out of sorts, the fact remains that "The Stranger," is both an essay on absurdism and existentialism, despite what both Camus and Sartre believed. The two philosophies, though coming from different origins, both come the same conclusion. One can not separate the absurd ideas of social morals and doctrines based on a 2,000 year old book from the existential ideals that come along with the disregard of God and the Christian morals that have been so ingrained in our culture.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Update #2: Moving and writing

So, since my last update I have moved from Florida back to Ohio. It is nice to be home, however there has been a lot of comings-and-goings, some falling outs, and the typical type of drama one expects but nonetheless forgets when returning home after a long time away.

To begin with, I have moved three times in the two weeks that I have been home. If that sounds like a lot that is because it is a lot. Both my lady love and I are exhausted, stressed, and a little angry.

So it goes.

Needless to say, I have neglected my duties to my blog, a fact that saddens me. However, I've returned and will be updating regularly.

Said updates will begin as of today with a book review.

To those that have stuck around, thank you. It means a lot and I hope you continue to support me and this blog as it grows and more content is produced.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Neil Gaiman: InterWorld

InterWorld (InterWorld, #1)InterWorld by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a writer I believe that it is important to read young-adult and children's books. Just as important, if not more so, than the classics that are so often praised and looked for.

This may seem strange. Why must we, who are adults and intellectual read something that is meant for kids? Well, in part, it is because we must always know what it is that younger people are reading and are interested in. This is partially due to the fact that, even if you are writing philosophy it is a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of what the future generation is thinking and feeling.

Another reason, however, is that we must always be vigilant for those who are writing badly and feeding terrible thoughts and propaganda to the young so that we can work to prevent that. Children are insightful and the world before them is full of terrible things that they may never be ready for.

The fantasy novel or the fairy-tale is a way in which we may reveal these awful and terrible things to our children, along with other complex things in a way that they may process.

So, the big question, does "Interworld" fulfill these requirements. The short answer is yes. "Interworld," is a novel that just about anyone could grasp. The language is simple and easy to latch onto, yet it still retains the trademark flair of a Gaiman story, being full of strangeness and the like.

Furthermore, the themes at work here are ones that are large, even for most adults. At one level we have the simple theme of belonging and the lack of place, something that everyone has felt at least once in their life time. However, this theme of lack of belonging is not just one of being an unpopular school child, but rather one that morphs and shapes into the feeling of utter displacement. Truly not belonging where one was once welcome.

This is a huge theme in the first of this series. However, even as this theme begins to go by the wayside we are confronted with the consequence of actions. Death is a hard thing to talk about. Even those who have been affected by it, as I have, do not always know the best way to speak of it. It is the great equalizer and the ending of all things. To speak of such a thing is a great feat, one made near impossible when speaking to the young, who do not fully understand that death is ever coming closer.

In "Interworld," we are confronted with that death and it is made even more profound because it is the death of the self, literally.

There is, of course, that strange combination of the pulp (which may be due to the other author's contributions) and the absolutely strange. Gaiman manages to blend elements of fantasy and science fiction, weaving them into a plot based on the idea of different dimensions. This strangeness helps to balance out the themes at play.

While the themes at play here are heavy, they are laid subtlely and placed in a way that we are never left feeling as if the author is preaching to us, but rather that this is real life at play.

If anything, this book shows that books for the younger audience can be dark and, at times, unhappy. They do not have to shelter, but can rather reveal, helping to balance out the great horror that awaits our children as they reach adulthood.

View all my reviews or buy the book here: InterWorld (InterWorld Trilogy)

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Pat Rothfuss: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We've talked about Pat's first book, "The Name of The Wind," the book that reintroduced me to fantasy, that made me fall in love with it, and that gave me a goal as a writer. Indeed, without Pat I wouldn't have come to love Gaiman, enjoy Sanderson, or find Butcher's mix of crime fiction and fantasy to be enthralling.

Hell, I wouldn't have found Lynch and his beautiful Gentlemen Bastards.

As with any writer there are issue with the work. In "The Name of The Wind," Patrick had a firm, if a bit shaky, grasp on his voice. There were times when what he wrote was so damned stunning that I could hardly believe. There were also time when it could start to stray into purple, but those moments are few and far between.

The biggest issue that many readers have found is that Kvothe appears to be a little too great. As I said in my previous review, I believe that to be somewhat intentional. After all, he flat out says he starts a great deal of the lies that surrounded his own legend. Pat is a clever man and, from what I've gathered through my reading, a lot of this story uses the "unreliable narrator" to drive it.

After all, when we tell a story how often do we tell the truth objectively? As Woody Allen states in his masterpiece "Annie Hall,": "Things rarely go the way we want them to in life so I think that's why we try to make everything perfect in art."

Or something to that effect. My point is this, storytelling and music are the first two great human arts. Even in paintings we get a story of sorts, or else a reason.

What comes with this telling of stories is the telling of lies, unintentional or otherwise. So, when Kvothe speaks of himself or Deana, we can conclude that to one extent or another his is fulfilling his own wishes, much like some other real storytellers do.

Now, as far as the story goes in this book, it is easy to say that this book wasn't as great as the first. After all, a big part that we all love about the first book is the school with all its oddities. Here there is so little of the school and much more exploration of the world itself.

Here Kvothe is a court mage essentially, and a damned mercenary. There are legends told and more courtly games played. No school time mischief or drama.

Now, there are two really important reasons why this shift is important. The first of which is that it address an issue that I had with the first novel in that I felt the story was rather underpopulated. It felt as if there were not a great many people living in the world. Growing up in a small town myself, I can see that the reason behind this was simply that Kvothe was not really living in the world at large. This book changed that and that is a good thing.

Along the same lines we have the fact that, though a traveler, Kvothe is rather short sighted in his understand of the world and how it actually works. In part he is a teenager and, as such, claims more understanding than he has. However, the larger part is that, though a studious and well rounded person, he hasn't has first hand experience. Being told something or reading something is vastly different from doing that thing.

So, when we see Kvothe being forced to stifle himself or else he may be killed. Or see him being punished for insolence, this is important. These are lessons that, while he may not fully grasp them now, are helping to shape him into the more reserved, less hot-headed, wise man he has become. Even after learning from the Lethani, Kvothe is still a brat, but it is clear that, to one extent or another, his time in court as well as him time among the Lethani has helped to change him and make him a little more reserved.

Now, the sex in this one is a big issue for some. I will say that I thought it a nice touch, though I believe there were a few instances that I felt could be cut. Not because they were offensive, but more so because they were a little pointless in my book.

All in all, this was a damn fine book and, while some may feel a bit upset that it did not really bring us a great deal closer to the end, remember that the journey is more important. There are more reasons to read something that to reach its end. In anything, it is the end of a thing that we try our best to avoid.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bloodstone: Karl Edward Wagner

BloodstoneBloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. I mean that. And, honestly, it came close many a time to reeling me into it, only to fall short and leave me wanting.

Allow me to start by telling you what this book did well. Wagner has a talent for setting a scene, one which I can easily relate. His descriptions of people and of the world that they inhabit is enchanting. He knows how to turn a phrase and really pull the reader into the story.

As a writer myself I can understand the love that Wagner has for setting a scene and really trying to make the world as lush and real as possible, even when it is fantastic. He and I, it would seem, both have taken a perverse pleasure in doing such, in feeling as they we have crafted a beautiful description.

In those instances where Wagner sets the stage for his characters he is a master. In those moments I am so fully immersed and impressed that I can't help but feel gleeful that I am reading this book.

However, the real damning problem comes when Wagner has his characters speak.

Speech is a tricky thing. You have to craft speech that is unique to each character, that reveals what is necessary for the reader so that they may understand what is happening, and the dialect must be fitting to whatever period in time you are trying to conjure. Naturally this is a rather tricky skill.

Now, I would not expressly say that Wagner fails out right. However, there are times when the speech feels too plain, too modern in the mouths of the speakers. That is not to say that our characters should speak with "thy's" and "thine's" or whatever other thing, but there must be some cleverness or some sort of alien quality to reel the reader in. At times Wagner falls very short of this, however, I would say that is only a small part of the problem

The other part of the issue, for me, is that when Kane explains something he goes on, droning so that there is little mystery left for the reader to puzzle out. Because of this we know what is going to happen and yet we lose a sense of danger and excitement.

Characters explain the motivations of everyone and comment on why they are doing this. They fill the reader in on detail after detail and, well, it sounds strange.

This, in other words, becomes and issue of telling instead of showing and as we all know, it is always the job of the writer to show rather than tell.

Another issue is that Kane, being an immortal, feels like he lacks motivation to do things. This is a small issue as he does do things and tries to accomplish things, it more so feels like we lack a why.

Wagner, though skilled in many ways, has the issue of not knowing what to explain and what not to explain. This is common enough when we are unsure of our voice as a writer, yet, though there are some rather powerful passages, there is nothing that pulls this tale through the rough for me.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

An Update

Many of you who read my blog may be wondering why I haven't updated the blog with any new posts recently. Well, part of the reason is that I am in the middle of a move between states and that makes it hard to be on here, as I'm sure you can understand.

However, another reason is that I am compiling and editing a short story collection that I will be publishing, hopefully with in the next few months. While I love blogging and sharing my opinion with you all my writing comes first. It is also difficult because I need to find a way to make money and though there are free sign-ups for audible, amazon prime, links to buy things, and other ads from google that can generate me some money it hasn't yet. That's fine, I'm not doing this to just for money, however, it would help and allow me more time to spend here if I were getting some more support.

Overall, I am busy, but don't let that make you think I am going to stop blogging here. At the beginning of May I plan to return to doing reviews and talking about the writing process. In the meantime I will try and update and give glimpses, as I have done recently, on my short story compilation.

For the rest of you, please continue to read my blog, share my blog, comment on my blog, and even click on an ad or sign up for a free trial. It really would help me out a lot and if you cancel, well, that's fine too.

Thank you all for being so patient and stay-tuned. I haven't left you all out to dry.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to Improve your writing

We've all written a piece, spent time with it and edited it and picked away at it just to have it be said, "yeah, this isn't bad but, well, it needs a lot of work." And in those times it can be painful as writing is a personal thing and every time we ask ourselves, "how do I do better?"

Well, half of the process is, of course, continuing to write. If we do not write and continue to try new things then we will never get any better as writers, but will stagnant instead. However, to just write endlessly is not enough.

If we as writers really want to become better then we must begin the process of reading. This is likely either strange or obvious knowledge. After all, what kind of writer is not a reader as well? Yet still, it is not enough to just read.

Allow me to explain. As I've stated before, when we want to write it is important we start off as readers. Part of this is so that we can understand the structure of a story. After all, without reading we can not see how writers work and how the manage to tell you everything you need to know yet,  at the same time, leave you with enough rope to hang yourself with questions and analysis.

It is this second part where we begin to develop a critical opinion. To use a different example, for those that want to direct a film they must, themselves, be lovers of film. After all, without a love of film then the act of directing would be laborious, one that was more akin to working a job than to creating art. Further, without a knowledge of film one will not be able to understand how a film is made. After all, much like a writer, a director does not include every aspect of the character or the world they inhabit but only what is important so that the reader, or the viewer, may gain some understanding of what the author or director is trying to convey.

It is through this critical voice and this ability to analyze a text that we begin to understand how to write and create. Therefore, it is import for us as creators to absorb everything that we can, good and bad, and learn to filter that so that we may create ourselves. If we do not do this then we will create nothing.

Now, for those that want to start on this you can check out (and buy) books from my suggested reading here:

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dick's work is philosophically remote in a way that few other science fiction writers are. One on end we have Dick's question about freedom, sovereignty, religion, and what it means to be human. On the other hand we have his drug use and the fact that he was going a little bit crazy.

Let us start with the former. Dick's works as a science fiction writer were strange, hard, and full of pulp. He wrote about androids being hunted down and victual reality machines. He wrote of psychic powers and alternative history. These are the sorts of things that people expect when reading science fiction. The fun and camp of it all, and Dick was a master in that regard.

However, these were just tools. A framing device so that he may ask questions that were bigger than all of us. This often took the form of drug-like fever dreams where suddenly the main character was left questioning reality.

Dick often said that he felt like he was an anomaly that the Universe needed to correct. He felt as though the FBI was watching him a lot as well. This paranoia of something big and in authority was what fueled Dick's works. It is clear that Dick did not care for police or for religion, at least in terms of power and control.

So, when he wrote, naturally he had his characters be exposed to powers much larger than they were. He would take the every day man and explore what it meant to be human and what authority could do. Yet, Dick was not so one sided as to say religion was horrid, nor authority. His characters were often men of authority subject to the changing rules of the world they lived in (see Minority Report) and, as a lover of psychedelic drugs, Dick felt that spiritual experience could be had. It was the institution that plagued him.

Dick was not the first to tackle ideas this huge, nor was he the last. Rather, Dick was the best. He wrote like a machine, as if constantly afraid that if he did not then there would be no way for him to come to understand reality. Dick wrote for the reason that many of us write, to exercise whatever demon lurks in our minds.

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," was written before Dick really went into the murky depths that would be his later, and much more dense, works (see Ubik). That is not to say that this book is without thought, this is the story of a man who doesn't know what being human is anymore and, for us outsiders it is a feeling that can be understood. Here Dick examines the human condition against the external forces of religion and desire, later, however, he would show us how those same forces would work within us and lead us to some sort of spiritual awakening. "Do Androids Dream" was the seed that grew into that strange plant.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Isaac Asimov: Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isaac Asimov was a genius who thought that people who were geniuses were pretentious. He wrote pulp science fiction, invented some laws of robotics, and was a proud humanist.

In many ways Asimov is akin to Philip K. Dick. They both wrote science fiction that found itself entrenched in the pulp side of things. However, these two managed to take the science fiction genre and add some real insight and thought. They both possessed a unique vision of the future, one that could be dark and cruel, or good and kind.

However, the similarities stop there. Dick's works could be dense and surreal, filled with strange occurrences and religious epiphany. Asimov was not so surreal as that. Dick's work relied on the every man, while Asimov was a fan of the academic.

This is not to say that Asimov is not readable or that he is unperceptive to the average person. Rather, he puts it on the people who have access to knowledge to be leaders and to use their knowledge wisely so as to lead us to a better future.

This is shown best in Foundation. Here we have a sprawling space opera that shows the rise and fall, trails and tribulations, and the work required to make a civilization grow. It is deep and the action is not that of the laser blaster being fired or a space war, but more the tension of the politics, the not knowing if they new civilization will survive the failing empire that surrounds it.

To some this may seem a rather boring undertaking and, at times, it can drag. However, the thought that Asimov put into this work and the way in which he shows us how one civilization might raise. It is a story of people and republic, not of heroes and dragons. While this story may take place in outer space it is not so far removed from the world that it fails to represent what challenges we face as humans.

If I have not said it before then I will say it here and now: the most amazing thing reading can do is connect us back to the world in which we live. It is not about escaping the problems of the world, that is not what makes art powerful or moving. It is rather that, be it just something that makes us smile and laugh, or something that makes us think of what is around us, we come out of it and feel more connected to what surrounds us.

Many times it is assumed that a writer writes only to entertain or to allow escape, however, that is not the case. Entertainment is a fine thing. I won't lie to you and say that I don't find Bay's Transformers films entertaining, or find Batman & Robin to be something fun to watch. However, when I am finished with them then I have been given nothing, have taken away nothing. When I am done with Foundation or with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey I feel as though I been given something, as though I have come away and found myself a better person, a person better connected with the world.

Asimov is a man that understands that, perhaps better than he is given credit for.

View all my reviews or buy the book here: Foundation

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

When Death Came To Town: A Short Story

     It had all started with noise, just as most everything in the world does. This was, however, a different sort of noise. It was not the sort of noise that pulls itself together into a collage, a picture suddenly and slowly coming into focus. No, that was not the kind of noise that this had been and as Pan sat, her long auburn hair blowing around her face like wisps of flame, she felt the pang of loss.
It had been normal the day before and the whole of the town was bustling, busy as bees. The sun was not shining down upon then and no beautiful smells came gently carried into the town. It was, in fact, a gray day, one where the cloud blocked out the sun and left the air cold and the world empty. It was the sort of day where the only smells were those of burning logs and oil meant to keep the chill out of homes. It was the sort of day Pan disliked her job as town guard.
   A guard position, or so it was said, was not a profession for a young lady. It was tradition that the youngest men of the town would put their time into, come out of, start families, and be vaguely familiar with martial skills. This was ordered by the king for each town, city, and hold to uphold in case there were ever invasion from the ever present mage threat. Pan, however, had felt differently and, through a test of skill, she had rightly earned her position. Though, truth be told, the guards operated more like a police force, settling disputes and marital quarrels. On the off occasion that there was something to be killed it was most often a bandit or some sort common draccus that wondered too closely too the town. Or else it was a spitfire hawk hunting game and killing the chickens. Very rarely had there ever been any real threat.
Well, expect, Pan thought as she strolled through town, her short sword kept still so as it would not bang against her armor, for that time a stray pack of black dogs wondered near. The creeping death that they brought with them killed a few townsfolk and nearly crippled our farms.

  The armor that Pan wore was a listless silver that did not reflect the light that pressed against it but rather absorbed it, pulling it into the depths of its own oblivion. It was old armor, the sort that had been used by many before her, yet Pan felt a claim of title to it. When she donned her armor she was no longer the child of a baker, no longer the wild daughter of the town smith but the sworn sister of the town guard.
  Pan had power, a fact that she smiled at, even on the most bitter and gray days.

  “Guard! Guard!” a voice called to Pan's left and she spun toward it. It was the town crier shouting to her, waving his meaty hand in the air, beckoning her to come.
  “Yes,” Pan called back, donning her most commanding of voices, “what's the problem here?”
  “A boy I paid to pin up these posters, as sent by our King, has not returned and it has been several hours. I fear something may have happened to him.”
  The town crier was a fat man named Hendrik who had dodged service with the guard due to his poor health. It was well known that when news would come from the King and it could not be simply shouted in the streets he would pay local boys and girls to tack the fliers to the door of every resident.
  Yet in all that time he had never once come to any of the guard for help with a missing child. It was something that simply did not happen.
  “I will find the boy, Hendrik, and make sure that no harm has come of him.”
  Hendrik's huge frame shuddered as he exhaled in relief, “Thank you, Pan, thank you. The boy's name is Jeremy. I do hope you find him.”
  Pan nodded and set off. The boy, Jeremy, was one that was familiar to her. He was a kindhearted child no older than ten. Oft times he would follow Pan on her patrols, discussing with her all the gossip of the town and complaining of his older brother, Thomas.
  On one particularly memorable instance, Jeremy had complained of Thomas' constant desire to play mage and knight, a game in which one person takes up a wooden stick as a sword and whacks the other while they try and use their spells to stop the knight. In reality it was a cruel little game that older brothers everywhere invented and practiced as a way to terrorize their younger siblings. Naturally, refusal failed to stay the hand of the knight, so, feeling equal parts bold and foolish, Jeremy decided to exact revenge by coaxing the local stray cat to relive itself on Thomas' shoes.
  Pan had snorted in laughter when she heard, “you, my boy, are smart as the crack of a whip.”
  Jeremy smiled from ear to ear at that, “there's reasons not mess with a mage.”
  Remembering the event Pan quickened her step and began her search for the other small children in the town. They would be her guide to finding the poor sweet boy.

  Finding the boys was a rather difficult task. The first thing that Pan had done in search of them was to stop by the houses of several of the children that Jeremy was wont to run with. The mothers and fathers of the house were rather surprised and afraid of her presence and it only made matters worse when she informed them of her interest in their sons and daughters. One mother in particular broke down in tears at the mention that Pan was in search of her boy.
 “Oh, what has little Graham done now, oh tell me he hasn't hurt himself, please please, tell me he's okay.”
  Pan stifled a nervous laugh and comforted the woman. When she knew what it was that Pan wanted with her boy her demeanor changed drastically.
 “I couldn't tell you where that boy is. I never see hide nor hair of him except when it is time for him to eat. He's just like his father, running around all day and only coming home when he wants a hot meal.”
  The woman's ranting continued on for a few minutes more and, when at last Pan managed to disengage herself from the woman's woes she had no further questions to ask.
Barring the help of the mothers and the fathers of the town Pan was left to old fashioned footwork to locate the other children. For near a hour she walked the town, going where the children were known to frequent.
 The clear blue steam that flowed not a few yards from the town was a known sanctuary to the children. It was there they would go to play their games of knights and house, or to try and capture or antagonize all forms of wildlife. In the summer months they would jump into the cold water, washing off sweat and mud that clung like brambles too them, refreshing themselves for more mischief. This was the first place that Pan checked and, ducking under the thick brush that had grown in over the past few months of fall, she found not trace of the children.
 “Black damn,” she swore as she untangled herself from the brambles and bushes, her auburn hair tangling in every branch, as if they were trying to pull her in and keep her. The thought made her shiver and, she thought, it would be good to get a trim before the days end.
  If the children were not near the water it was known that they would be off in the fields further from the town. The fields were not a place that the children often dared to venture. It was far enough from the town that, were something to happen, there would be no chance for help. Yet, it was this very prospect of danger as well as the fields open, endless flatland that appealed so greatly to the children.
  As Pan came to the old elk tree that stood sentinel, marking the separation between the small and crowded wood and the open field, she heard the cries of children and her blood ran cold. The shrieks and cries she heard were not those of children at play, but the frightful screams of children who have come face to face with something monstrous, something dangerous.
 Pan drew her sword and ran toward the sound of shrieking children.

 The children had grouped together at the opposite end of the field and, directly in front of them was a snorting Steel Boar. The creature was digging its metallic hooves into the soft ground, rooting up the ground. It's head was tucked low, its blade like tusks were white as bone and as long as Pan's forearm. It was clear, Pan noted as she approached the boar from behind, that the children had been dodging the mechanical hybrid for some time. Each of them shone with sweat and the ground all around was torn to pieces.
 And there was, Pan noticed, the stench of fresh blood in the air. A shiver slithered down her spine at the thought.
 Pan shouted out, “Hey!” and the Steel Boar ran forward a few yards, turning just short of the children and stopping adjacent to them to see where the sudden sound had came from.
 It locked its eyes with Pan and she stared down at the beast. It dug its hooves into the dirt and Pan entered into her fighters stance, legs spread wide, body hunched low and sword angled above her head like a scythe.
 The boar took charge at her, a full on dead barrel. The world slowed as Pan focused on the beast, everything narrowing to a thin tunnel and when the boar was just a few yards away, Pan shifted her weight, turning away from the charging animal and expertly slipping her sword under the Steel boar to its soft, fleshy belly.
 Pan twisted and, bring her blade up with her, she dug deep into the flesh of the boar. The wet sound of tearing flesh and blood and intestine spilling form the body filled Pan's ears for a moment and she knew the beast was dead.

 Pan turned and looked down at the hybrid animal. It's back was all metal and wires, its tusks, though appearing natural, were made of an alchemical mixture that made them strong a steal and hard as bone. From what little Pan knew of these creatures they grew and functioned like their organic brethren, yet they were twice the threat. The only way to slay one of these beasts was the cut at its underbelly; an unenviable task.
 Pan flicked the blood off her sword and walked toward the children. Though the beast was dead they huddled and shivered in their fear and, all subtly dotting the grass around their sweaty, dirty bodies there was blood.
 With two big steps forward Pan was inside the cluster of children, pushing them apart. In the heart of their sweaty mass was Jeremy who held the head of his gored brother.
Kneeling down Pan asked, “What happened here.”
 “We were playing mages and knights when we heard the boar rustling in the grass. Thomas threw a rock at it and it charged him. We all ran from it at first but Thomas tripped and stuck him,” said Jeremy, his voice slight and quivering.
 “Fucking idiot,” Pan cursed, “how bad is he?”
 “He's still awake, but he stopped moaning just before you got here.”
 “Alright then. Jeremy, I need you to take off your shirt-yes that's right. This should be plenty.”
  Tearing the shirt and stretching it apart, Pan wrapped it around Thomas' wound, tying it off tight as she could. Then, hefting him up onto her shoulder, Pan called the other children and they began their walk to town, moving quickly as they could. The jostling and bumping of the road rekindled Thomas' moans and promoted Pan to make small cooing sounds, slowly calming him back into silence. Yet even as he was silent Pan could hear the bubbling in his breathing as the blood began to pool in his lungs.
 “Come,” she said, beckoning the children to pick up their pace, “we must hurry.”

  Returning to town Pan commanded the gaggle of dirty children to return home, excepting Jeremy.    There was, to her small surprise, no argument roused from the children and, after they had gone, Pan walked with Jeremy to the town physician, a man freshly appointed to his position after several years studying at Ase'ar, The University of The World.
  “After I hand Thomas over to the physician I will go to your parents and tell them what happened. You will stay and give your brother support, Jeremy.”
  The boy nodded and silence lulled.
  The physicians hut small and packed with a hundred different types of medical tools, potions, powders, plants, and so on. An alchemical chandelier hung about them and cast blueish light over the room that mixed with the gray light of the outdoors, lending a peaceful aura to the room. Despite how densely packed the hut was, everything was in place and perfectly ordered, though what that order was Pan could only guess at. Still, the scalpels and saws and braces that hung on the wall, as well as the rainbow arrangement of potions, eased Pan's mind.
  Standing up, the physician looked at the three who had just entered into his hut, defiling it with the blood and dirt and sweat that caked their bodies, slithering down to the floor. His coat was eggshell white and hanging around his neck was a large metal pendant, patterned with a snake sneaking up a rod, the identification of his profession as an arcane doctor.
  “What what?” he said, stepping toward the trio, “what's happened?”
  “It was a steel boar. Gored the boy when he was in the field. I did my best to tie off the wound and keep him from bleeding out,” Pan said as she passed Thomas to the physician.
  Quickly stepping away with the boy the physician set the bleeding boy down upon a table in the left most corner of the room, directly beside the majority of his medical instruments and potions. Once down he stripped him of his clothes and removed the make-shift tourniquet, pulling caked dried blood from the wound. Picking from the wall a small hooked tool and a mirrored glass the physician picked at the wound, pulling the flesh back like a marionette, moving the flesh and his mirror so as to see the lacerations that the steel boar had caused Thomas.
  Replacing the mirror the physician grabbed a bottle full of yellow-green liquid, a small pair of tweezers, and some balls of cotton. Pulling back the red-black flesh the physician fished inside of Thomas, pulling out dirt and fragments of cloth. Once sufficiently satisfied that nothing lurked within the wound the physician removed the stopper from the bottle and, turning it upside down, he soaked one of his balls of cotton. Taking up the ball in his tweezers he began to liberally wipe and dab at the lips of the wound, removing the dried blood.
  “The boys condition is not good. Are you aware of the infections that come from the tusks of a steel boar?” asked the physician without turning away from his work.
  “No,” Pan replied tightly.
  “They are siege beasts, you know. They were made with the intention of charging foes in battle, weakening the line. Their armored backs make them hard to kill, but their alchemical tusks are the real trick. They are made from the same bone that make up their organic cousins, however, the draccus was a clear inspiration for its effectiveness. Those damned tusks are made porous so that the bacteria can seep into the tusks. Fucking Black Alchemists. Toy with nature, make a war beast, and then, when the wars done, nothing left but to let it free.”
  The last part was said under his breath, yet Pan heard it.
  Kneeling before Jeremy she whispered, “I'm going now. You stay here. I will send word to your parents.”
  Jeremy nodded, his brown eyes far away. Pan hugged him before she departed and she felt his warm, brackish tears touch upon her cheek.

  Hendrick ran toward Pan, calling out to her and weaving one of his bulbous hands above his head,      “Guard! Guard!”
 Pan slowed enough to allow the crier to catch up to her and when he did he asked, “have you found Jeremy?”
 “Yes, Hendrick. I found him in the field. He was playing with some of the other children. There was some trouble with a steel boar and now he is waiting with his brother at the physicians. It does not look good.”
 Hendrick's fat head turned the color of the moon, his eyes and mouth resembled craters now more than the features of a human face. Pan did her best not to stare at the horrified man, instead allowing the silence to grow wild between them.
 “Is Jeremy okay?” The criers voice was as thin and wispy as the wind or else a single strand of hair.
 “Yes, physically. I cannot say as to how his mind handles these things.”
The crier nodded and looked glum. He knew that something must be done, he could feel it deep within him, begging him to move like living flame under his foot. Yet, as to what must be done he could only grasp.
 Finally, “I will go to the boy. Wait with him. You are going to retrieve his parents, yes?”
 “Of course.”
 “Good. Tell them that I will take care of their bills. They will have enough to worry about without the pressure of a doctors bill.”
 Pan nodded and, with only a bit of shuffling about in uncertainty, Hendrick left her to deliver her morbid message.

 Thomas and Jeremy's parents took the news of their sons possible death as well as was expected. Their mother, a thin woman with a round face stared off, glass eyes, her brown and gray hair a messy halo about her. The rag that was in her hand had found itself wrapped tightly around her fist and pulled tight, as if she were tying off the outcry of pain that bloomed within her.
 Her husband, a lean, muscled man with leather brown skin, wore a broken face. Tears fell freely from his eyes as he wrapped her arm around his wife's shoulder. The couple seemed pale and shriveled. Pan got the impression that every bone in their body had been replaced with fractured glass and, with the slightest touch or movement they would shatter into dust to be scattered in the wind.
Yet off they went, shuffling in bug-like fashion as Pan watched, her heart heavy as lead in her chest.

 Having had her share of tragedy, Pan decided to treat herself to a drink and lunch at the Lightning Tree, a small inn that had sprung up in place of the Pissing Pig, which had burned to the ground five or so years back. The Lightning Tree received its name, or so the owner, a man with sandy hair, a long pointed noise, and golden eyes, claimed, from the great beast of a tree that had been used to build it. According to him, in his home land there was a tree that had produced the most beautiful of fruit. It was a pale fruit, the color of the stars, and it was used primarily for brewing.
However, the Seven grew jealous of this tree and the worshipers that sprung up in its honor. It was planted by fae and was, therefore, an affront to them and as such they sent a bolt of lightning to burn the tree. However, the great beast that was the tree stood against this trail and, though it was blackened, it did not fall or burn, but nor did it produce fruit anymore. So it was that as time passed and the worshipers of the tree and its planters died off that the tree was forgotten by the town from whence it came, at least until Mr. Walker came to use its black wood for his inn.
 Pan loved that story and all the other stories that Mr. Walker would spin like a spiders web, entertaining her as she ate.
 Today was no exception, “Pan, have you ever heard the story of Simmon de Feor ?”
 “No, sir,” said Pan between mouthfuls of warm honey bread.
 Mr. Walker grabbed a jug of warm smelling summer cider, pulled up a chair beside Pan, and poured himself a mug, allowing the spiced cider to fill the air, making it pregnant.
 He took a long drink, “Well, Simmon de Feor is more commonly know as Faesmith. Does that ring a bell for ya?”
 “Oh! Of course. He made the same sword Oren of the Vale uses. The blood-drinking sword.”
 “Yes, that is likely his most famous creation. Or maybe it was infamous? But that doesn't matter, what matters is how he learned to craft as he did.
 See, Simmon went to The University of The World and learned everything from rune-craft to naming. He was a top student and, it's said, he was dear friends with Oren of the Vale, before he was “of the Vale.” He could craft the most intricate of runes, the kind that would make the smiths of legend weep. The sort that were dangerous and beautiful. The sort that broke the Iron Law.
 He could, or so they say, sing to his creations, caressing them gently with magical energies. Yet, even with all of this, Simmon was no better than any genius might be. 
 He merely built upon what others had done before him. He was not an innovator, just an exceedingly clever student. Until, of course, he stumbled across a book.
 See, dear Pan, all great stories and adventures start with the discovery of a book. It is with them that we can open up the doors that were once locked. They are keys and clues and the only real, true treasure in the world. And when Simmon found this book the doors were blown wide.
 He packed up his things and left only a note and he searched from land to land for whatever secret thing was in that book, of which there is no shortage of speculation.
 Those that believe in the Seven will tell you that he made a deal with a fae woman, impregnating her with his mortal seed in exchange for a secret magic. Those who worship the fae will, curiously, tell something similar. And to an extent they were right.
 Simmon did find a woman, and a beautiful one at that. He found a women in a far off land where night stretches on forever and the purple lands are populated with creatures whose names have been lost to the time, blown in the wind. And he fell in love with this woman, deep and true as any love could be and, in that land of night skies and purple lands, where the waters tasted sweet as honey, he resolved himself to stay.
 But, of course, this story would be nothing without tragedy. Of course there were those that travel the land, seeking out the fae that make their home among the humans. Those who wear the mantle of the Seven and, when they find those ungodly creatures, they destroy them.
 And so, one a day when Simmon had left his lady love to journey and discover his new land, these men came and slew the woman, mangling her body and leaving it to leak blood into those sweet waters. When Simmon came and found his lady dead, it is said, he found those men that took her life through magical means and took from them their lives. And when he was done he returned from that enchanted land, now tainted by the touch of death, and vowed never to tell the secrets of his lady love.”

 Mr. Walker was silent then and that silence radiated outward, sucking sound from the room. Pan quietly sipped the last of the spiced cider she'd ordered for herself and sat, soaking in the silence around her.

 Then the noise came, descending down upon them with indignation. It was the sound of screaming and alarm bells. It was the sound of invasion, of marching death.
Pan jumped up from where she had been sitting and, sword drawn, ran out into the chaos. The sirens wailed and screamed madly, begging and pleading for attention. People screamed and babbled, shouting questions that were promptly ignored.
 Mr. Walker came out then, “What's happening?” he shouted above the wail of the sirens.
“Invasion,” Pan replied, absently.
 Mr. Walker muttered something then, something that Pan did not understand at the time, something that would not come back to her until years down the road when she remembered this grim day and when she did finally remember what he said this day would all make sense. But now, as she was, her mind was too far gone, fear gripping it and adrenaline pumping through her veins.
 The rush of danger pushed her into action and Pan ran forward, heading toward the town gate where she was sure the guard captain would be. She swan upstream, past the growing horde of frightened town-folk, some of which carried their children to their breast or lead them by hand, pulling them should they slow. Those without children dragged their material goods or else their animals with them. At one point Pan saw the physician, a sack filled with what she was sure was medical equipment and, just a few paces behind him, was Jeremy. Where were his parents?
 Turning off from her course and dodging thee gaggle of runners Pan ran headlong into the hut that had been the physicians. Inside there was no semblance of order. The walls had been picked, their contents in the bag of the fleeing physician or else on the floor. The impression of God-like cleanliness that had pressed upon Pan when she had come earlier had been disrupted and, in its absence, a rift grew. Chaos had been here, like a wind storm or else the fury of the Seven.
 Holding the hand of their boy, huddled in the corner, were Jeremy's parents. They were stoic, statuesque, a perfect part of the scenery.
 “You must go,” Pan said, her voice louder than the sirens and the screaming, “it is not safe.”
 There was no response from either aside from a blank stare, “did you not hear me? Can you not hear the alarms? It is not safe. Something is happening and you must leave.”
 Still they stared, their eyes fathomless, abyss-like.
 Anger flurried within Pan's chest, fanned hot by the black faced statues that stood before her. She stepped to them both and, only a few inches away, pulled back and slapped the both of them hard across the face.
 “You will leave here now. You will find your boy and the physician, or else I will drag you both from here myself,” she commanded.
 “What of him? What of Thomas?” asked the mother with a croaked whisper.
 Pan looked down at the boy on the slab. His chest rose and fell with great effort and with each breath came a gurgling sound. His skin had lost its color and, to Pan, it appeared as though he were slowly decomposing into nothing.
 She knew he would die and, in those broken faces that his parents wore she could tell that they knew as well.
 Nantosila, take this one, Pan prayed, into your wormed embrace. Dear Goddess, from the sky he came and on your soil he walked, now weary he comes into the Earth so he may rest.
 “You must leave him,” Pan spat these words as if they were poison, “you know he will not recover and to take him with us would only bring him greater pan. Give him to Nantosila, or else Jeremy may grow to resent you both, or else suffer a similar fate.”
 Jeremy's parents stood there, silently, and the distance between Pan and them widened and deepened.
 “Okay,” said the mother, her voice little more than a whisper.
 However, as she shambled like a corpse for the door her husband stayed. She looked back at him, eyes dull, but said nothing. She merely left him there, towering like a lonely giant above their dying son.
 “I'll bury him,” he said, seeing that Pan's eyes were fixed on him, “I'll bury him.”
 Pan left him there, allowing him the privacy to preform his morbid task, and continued to the town gate.
 When she was only a few yards away she saw her commanding officer, standing tall and gallant as always. The sight of him in his metallic gray armor, gray hair being tossed by the wind, and sword at the ready eased her mind. Commander Bryn had fought in the King's army when he was a young man and had received the King's grace as reward. Anywhere he went he would have power and position. Bryn would never want for money nor land nor, if ever something befall his wife, women.

 Commander Bryn turned and saw Pan's approaching her. His wrinkled face looked grave as he squinted to see her in the orange light of the setting sun. Bryn raised a great, mangled paw and waved her to him.
 “Sir, what's happening?” Pan asked, standing tall and brave next to her superior.
 “Take a look,” Bryn said, passing a telescope to her.
 Peering through it Pan saw the grim death that was soon to be upon them; a siege of the Black Alchemists. Their dark robes and mutated bodies giving them away immediately. Pan felt the touch of fear and grim certainty that soon nothing would be left of her town but the ash customary whenever the King's Justice descended upon the land.
 “Sir, I don't understand. Why are they coming here?”
 “To kill every last one of us, Pan.”
 Pan looked at her commander then, looked at the man she had so long considered to be fearless. She looked at him and saw all the fear and anger and regret painted plainly on his grizzled, angular face.
 “Why the hell would they do that? We're loyal to the crown. We worship the Seven and pay our taxes in full.”
 “The Black Alchemists aren't sent out for taxes. You've heard the stories. You know why they'd be here.”
 “We aren't harboring any criminals!” Pan replied, indignant and fear-filled.
 The guard commander was silent, his eyes focused forward. He was still as water, but only deceptively so. Below the surface the waters churned and shifted with the kind of angry bitterness that sought to drown the first fool to dip their toe.
 “Round whatever of the town is left and leave. They will track you, but better a life on the run than the torture that awaits you if you are caught.”
 Pan did not pursue the guard commander beyond that and shame and fear were born in her as a result.
 Her first stop was to the Lightning Tree in search of Mr. Walker. She came rolling through the doors like lightning, loud and booming with her voice, calling out for her old friend. She called and searched frantically but found not hide nor hair of him, or much else that would indicate that he'd ever been there.
 Puzzled but frantic Pan left the Lightning Tree with reluctance and went about checking every corner and home in the town. Most people she encountered screamed and shouted, oblivious to her directions in their total fear. Many a time Pan found herself with sword in hand, shouting and spitting frantically, even threatening, so that they would compose themselves and leave.
 Children cried, snot dripping from their noses as they asked and begged their parents for explanation. People, as is their nature, gathered together what they could, trying desperately to hang onto their lives through their collected junk. Pan would force many of them to leave behind all but the essentials and when the townsfolk would fight, kick, and scream, Pan would leave them to their fear and dread, leaving them with the promise that they would not be coddled or cared for because of their stupidity.
 The gathering of the frightened took the better part of an hour and as the whole of the town ascended the hillside Pan turned to see the place she had called home. She watched as the first fires began to spread and the scent of blood began to taint the air. She watched as a convergence of mutated figures descended upon the town like flies or a black plague. She listened as they burned and killed, stabbing at the heart of her home and, years from now, when Pan was asleep in bed with her lover, well, who would blame her for awaking in a sweat, the scent of blood in her nostrils.

 All this Pan watched without shedding a single tear as a black cancer formed within her and gorged itself on regret and anger and the knowing of answers to questions unasked. Slow poison spread through her veins and, turning away, she found herself glad of Mr. Walker's, no, Simmon's, disappearance.

*Apologies for fomatting issues, one and all. Blogger is not a fan on indents. Aside from that, I hope you enjoy this peak at the collection of short stories I am working on and, if you like me then you can find me on facebook or subscribe to the blog for regular updates on said collection and regular posts. Thank you.*