To say The Big Reap suffers from silliness is a little unfair. The Collector series has built its entire cache on indulgent silliness. Collector storiTo say The Big Reap suffers from silliness is a little unfair. The Collector series has built its entire cache on indulgent silliness. Collector stories are engineered for long flights, vacations, and general escapism. They're not exactly literature. Nevertheless, the first two exceeded expectations (for different reasons). The Big Reap was, sadly, more in line with more mainstream expectations for genre fiction.
Which is not to say The Big Reap isn't enjoyable. The Collector premise still has a lot of miles left on it. Like it's predecessors, The Big Reap will make a fine movie, with multiple boss fights and false endings. Like it's predecessors The Big Reap is a book most people will finish in 2-3 sittings. It was good; just not as good as the first two.
Note: Spoiler below!
Does anyone remember when Doctor Who was in a mid-season break and then came back with a much touted episode titled "Let's Kill Hitler?" When the Doctor and companions did indeed try to kill Hitler, the actual product fell short of viewer's baited expectations. The Big Reap begins with the exact same teaser and augments the splash with other stock villians from recent history. The end result - like Doctor Who - is a little less than the reader's excited anticipation.
The problem certainly isn't that Hitler and Mengele and Dracula and Jack the Ripper aren't titillating. It's that we've been titillated by them so often over the course of our genre consuming lives that they've lost some of their edge. On a psychological and sociological level, this may actually be a huge problem (a society that grows a callus to Hitler's inhumanity to the point that information about Hitler feels staid or boring is in danger of losing its soul). Thankfully that's not a crisis for purveyors of paranormal detective noir to suss out. It does introduce a new bar, however. Purveyors of genre fiction now have to draw on alternative sources for their salacious twists. The good old days are gone; one can no longer, in 2013, whip out Hitler as a go to device for shaking a story up. Frankly, this speaks badly of all of us.
My take away from the Goetia is how similar the language of the conjuring rites is in style and form to modern legal petitions or complaints.
"Comes nMy take away from the Goetia is how similar the language of the conjuring rites is in style and form to modern legal petitions or complaints.
"Comes now the magician 'M,' by the authority of (insert obscure name for God), and does command spirit 'N' to appear in tangible form and answer rationally all reasonable questions asked in order to accomplish 'X.'
I guess the answer is that the same guys who imported the text into English society were basically from the same strata as the magistrates and lawyers who preserved English law and thus would have been informed by style rules proven to establish and maintain order.
Still, it's weird.
And when you think about summoning rituals with legal logic, a couple of questions are raised:
1. The magician has to stand in a protected square and the spirit is locked in a binding triangle. The magician has protective gear that prevents the spirit from poisoning him with noxious fumes and commandeering his brain. But what happens when the ritual is over and the parties have left the ceremonial grid? Do either the language of the spells or the magic itself protect the magician against future retaliation? I imagine some of the spirits would be pretty resentful for being ripped from their rarefied plane to teach geometry to eccentric shut ins living on the fringe of normal religious experience. Those spirits are constrained from harming the magician DURING THE ACT, but is there anything to prevent them from waiting by the back door to jump the magician on the way to his car?
2. If the magician inadvertently summons the spirit from a plain where he is being held in captivity or being punished, is the magician indemnified against damages the now unleashed spirit may cause in the future? A magician could theoretically upset some serious cosmic plans if his actions release a spirit who has been hunted, captured, and imprisoned by archangels as punishment for misdeeds. Such a spirit is likely to offend again. Is the magician liable?
Alas, the answers to these questions were not to be found in this book.d...more
Norb has the perfect response to the assumption that all the pop punk bands were novelty acts or performing the musical equivalent of jokes. He said (Norb has the perfect response to the assumption that all the pop punk bands were novelty acts or performing the musical equivalent of jokes. He said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We weren't musical comedy acts. We were making anthems for weird people."
"Anthem" lacks some modesty, but nevertheless many bands who happened to be whimsical, irreverent, even funny - bands like They Might Be Giants, Zappa, Ween, Dead Milkmen, and the more topical Groovie Ghoulies and Boris The Sprinkler - bands whose biggest thing in common (despite huge stylistic differences) is a defiant uncoolness - are all widely misunderstood to be "joke" bands. Anyone who's profoundly influenced by these bands has felt the unique frustration of feeling like they need to defend an aesthetic they intrinsically connect with against a world who measures culture by its stylistic orthodoxy.
BTS (and its Ramones core peers) were not quite as juvenile as they seemed. Anyone who owned MTX's Revenge Is Sweet or The Parasites's Pair knows as much. The Riverdales and Queers (and the thousand other bands from the same period) varied in quality, but they were driven by a sincere combination of motives that only slightly involved comedic impulse. They were united by a mutual, transcendental response to The Ramones, the concurrent biker jacket and ripped jean chic, other related rock acts (Rezillos, Nuggets garage comps, and bubblegum pop), and (yes) sex. Norb also explains the apparent shameless fixation with pop-consumer culture as "fast food as counter-cultural freedom" (the same way Johnny Ramone's USMC and The Misfits's children's sized Mickey Mouse t-shirts were counter-cultural) - in a mirror trend to some women's (probably misguided) embrace of pornography as "post feminism." There IS a joke - but it's on the world, not a way to make the audience laugh. As such, it's a totally stealth joke and it's no wonder the aesthetic was misunderstood.
BTS was about as state-of-the-art as any of the pop punk bands of that generation. They were the superiors of The Queers and Screeching Weasel (and certainly NOFX and Rancid) because of how well they reassembled Ramones songs in a way that was completely consistent with The Ramones. The Ramones would never have sang such salacious songs about sex as The Nobodies or The Queers. They wouldn't have had a song on every album about farting. Dee Dee's occasional songs about drinking beer in the park were tame by Queers standards. But The Ramones would have had songs about comic books and Star Trek. And had the band been more dictatorial (and not wasted time trying to please divergent personnel types like Dee Dee and Marky), The Ramones could have produced late albums comparable in craft to BTS's Mega Anal or Suck.
But there was a palpable problem with albums like Suck and Mega Anal and the "Drugs And Masturbation" single: They were goofy looking and the sexual insinuation was hard to square with the sort of liberalism that was also pervasive at the time. In The Annotated Boris, Norb gives context to some of the tongue-in-cheekness behind songs like "Got2Fuc2Day" - but not enough to change what they are. While BTS's dirty little songs were smarter and less socially objectionable than their counterpart Queers songs, they're still socially objectionable. No amount of explaining can change that.
I remember being fascinated by Norb's column in MRR (and I remember being offended too). Fifteen years later, Norb hasn't changed much. A long form discussion of this type helps show that Norb is not quite a misogynist - his multiple partners were likely post-feminist rock and rollers who were consenting subjects for objectification. But his audience may not have been as enlightened as the characters in the saga. BTS, despite motives intended to be harmless, were socially irresponsible. They would have been a much better band if they converted every "UFO" into a "(My Baby Put Me In The) Penalty Box" (which is to say, just as playful and full of libido but not as offensive). It would have been a welcome improvement to songs like "Icky Shazam" if references to ejaculate were removed.
In the end, that whole 90s pop punk boys' club was only marginally better than the glam rock misogynists in Mötley Crüe or Poison. No amount of revision can undo that sad fact. I say "sad" fact because this music and the speed and lyrical play is SOOOO good. People of my generation will inevitably tell subsequent generations' teenagers and pop punk whippersnappers about the "good old days" of BTS, but I wish this book provided the answer to all the nagging doubt we have about its social responsibility....more
Try to remember what made Game Of Thrones so compelling: It was a stylish medieval soap opera without the standard cheese that came stock in every LorTry to remember what made Game Of Thrones so compelling: It was a stylish medieval soap opera without the standard cheese that came stock in every Lord Of The Rings clone of the past fifty years. Specifically, there were no goblins or orcs or dwarves or elves. No Gandalf figure. And, most important of all, no cinematic battles in which all the myriad armies of man convene to slaughter a demonic foe. Yes, the time came to introduce wights, Others (draugen), giants, skin changers, green seers, and resurrection sorcery in the name of a flame-based god. But when those things inevitably came, they tended to be informed more by Edda, saga, and folklore than AD&D. (Everyone with HBO and/or a 10th grade reading proficiency knows this; why am I laboring the point?)
But in addition to the tasteful balance of soap opera, Saxon-Scandinavian chic, and pagan magic, Game Of Thrones had some decent philosophical fodder. Among other things, it tells the story from multiple sympathetic angles, a la Romance Of The Three Kingdoms. One may not like (choose one) House Lannister, House Targaryen, House Baratheon, or even the vaunted Starks of Winterfell - but one can, nevertheless, see their self-interested points of view.
Lots of readers lament how the series begins to drag in the following installments, to the point where A Feast For Crows feels almost like a chore - not because it's bad but because it spends comparatively less time on koans and more time on the soap opera.
The payoff comes to those who stick it out. A Dance With Dragons brings back all the things that worked so well in Game Of Thrones and A Clash Of Kings (wights, skin changers, folklore/green seeing, arctic wastes, giants, sorcery) with philosophical koans that are not only thought provoking but topical. The prime motif in volume five is slavery, but it also manages to include the debate over a homogenous, intolerant plutocracy versus a diverse, pluralistic democracy and even throws in "the talk" minority parents have to have with their adolescent kids to teach them how to fly low and remain "inoffensive" in a majority white society (the "talk" we now all know about thanks to coverage of the Trayvon Martin case).
A Dance With Dragons is an easy tie with Game Of Thrones as the best in the series - arguably the most culturally significant fantasy since C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (in other words, in a LONG time). But it is not without its problems. There's silliness to be found in the 1,000+ pages of medieval soap opera. Not least of all Tyrion's trippy boat ride and Arya's Mossad training. And I could do without the Monty Python and Star Wars references (which I assume are meant to be subtle?). And it finally dawned on me that Varys The Spider is probably a Who reference ("Boris The Spider" from the second record). Still, one could alternately argue that it can't be 1,000+ pages of cloak and dagger seriousness; some levity is probably in order.
I'm willing to give this advice to prospective readers: Pick and choose which books you want to read and come back to the others only if you want to be a completist. Think of it like a record collection. Most people only need the first three Ramones albums but can be forgiven for buying even Brain Drain and Subterranean Jungle in the name of completing a collection. One may choose to read A Feast For Crows despite its marked dearth of major (likeable) characters, but casual readers can totally get away with only reading volumes one and five. In fact, I don't think it's wholly bad advice....more
Like some other vintage, anti-communist, hysterical conspiracy writing I've read, None Dare Call It Conspiracy starts harmlessly enough. The first halLike some other vintage, anti-communist, hysterical conspiracy writing I've read, None Dare Call It Conspiracy starts harmlessly enough. The first half of the book is merely irrational. I assume this is to eliminate open-minded readers who are naturally predisposed to disagree and bore those looking to have some laughs at the tinfoil hat crowd's expense. For those who make it past the half-way point, Gary Allen takes the gloves off and goes the kind of full-blown, bat shit loco crazy you are expecting.
It puts the 21st century lifelong liberal in an awkward spot, actually, as we have to be sympathetic - even defensive - for President Nixon. Granted, this was pre-Watergate, but President Nixon already had a storied career behind him, flush with things even a centrist Democrat would find objectionable. But one thing he wasn't was a communist/Rothschild/Illuminati agent. I'm sorry; I dislike him almost as much as Gary Allen does. But he wasn't that.
And this short book/long-essay makes one very uncomfortable, because it forms an unlikely solidarity with the Republican mainstream of the late 60s - early 70s.
But you have to understand: that is a totally different kind of uncomfortable: far less uncomfortable than having to confront ideas you've always believed in. Thankfully, None Dare Call It Conspiracy doesn't challenge any preexisting beliefs. It's pretty much delusional ravings from the start, escalating to full blown clanging by the end.
And it does give you something to laugh at, after all: Silly John Birch Society! You so crazy....more
I reviewed Ad Reinhardt's satirical cartoons in an art history class a long time ago. I am also open to the idea of the black painting as an "end" toI reviewed Ad Reinhardt's satirical cartoons in an art history class a long time ago. I am also open to the idea of the black painting as an "end" to painting (I doubt one in ten people surveyed could name an artist or work created after 1970; I doubt one in fifty could name one made after 1980). Art as Art has been on my "to read" shelf for years.
I was a little disappointed by how irascible Reinhardt was. Perhaps de Kooning and Rothko* need to be depicted as the petit bourgeois accessories to culture crime they were. Even if Reinhardt's irascibility can be justified by his own rule for artists that "those in possession of the truth have an obligation to throw the first stone," his obsession with repeating himself - often word for word - cannot be.
Reinhardt takes visible comfort in calling out others on their personal failures. Principal in his grievances is the allegedly phony intermingling of media. "Art is art. Everything else is everything else." Well, if Reinhardt is a student of rhetoric, isn't he fouling up the purity of his day job by importing rhetoric into art criticism? Isn't talking about art critically defiling art by associating it with words? Art is art. Words are words. Right?
I would appreciate Reinhardt more if - rather than publishing snide letters to the editors of culture pages and art magazines - he wrote a private memoir to be published posthumously, giving his feelings at the time but in a less public, petulant, pathetic way.
There are other contradictions, but I give Reinhardt credit for never letting his ego or moral compass trick him into believing he was anything other than human. Nevertheless, one cannot inactivate the observation of these contradictions and not be irritated by them.
My word of advice for anyone interested in Ad Reinhardt: Find the cartoons he did for the socialist newspapers and read his essays on Islamic, Chinese, and Khmer art. You do not need this much view into Reinhardt's mind. You might not like what you see and it might affect the way you look at his painting later.
*Though I still count Rothko as one of the three greatest painters (call me a sentimentalist)....more
"Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Neverthele"Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, the author gives readers a fair and sophisticated view of one of the post-war years' ultimate pariahs.
The utility of fire as a weapon is investigated from its classical-heroic history in ancient and medieval times through the engineering problems it solves. (An incendiary device is economical, especially for purposes of delivery. Since incendiary bombs start fires, using their targets for fuel, they do not have to bring their fuel with them. This keeps weight and cost down and makes assembly and storage simple. Hydrocarbon gelled incendiary bombs use contents that stay a liquid, even for a short time after impact. This allows the contents to bounce off walls, splash around corners, and run into cracks and penetrate sub levels. As grim as the subject is, incendiary gelled bombs are an engineering triumph, allowing remote strikes to be made into spaces it might otherwise require a squad of vulnerable soldiers to penetrate.)
During the course of the narrative, Napalm takes us down unexpected anecdotal avenues (an army plan to use bats (yes, bats) to be fitted with delayed detonation suicide vests as a way to deliver incendiaries across wide areas in remote locations. (Fire bombs work great in densely populated areas and industrial targets; not so well in farm country. The bat bomb sought to fill in the tactical gap.)).
Naturally the weapons' use in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are given detailed histories.
But where Napalm really succeeds is explaining the protest movement's logic, the counter argument by the defense industry, and the legal basis and challenges under various non-use protocols. The legal basis provides some of the most thought provoking material to be found in the book - bordering on a review of ethics - perhaps the most refreshing discussion of the law of war I've ever come across in a neatly packed presentation written in plain language.
Professional reviews stress the non-political tone the author maintains throughout the book. While our knee-jerk presumption that napalm is bad isn't challenged much, the author's impartiality and genuine quest to understand his subject spins off a lot of fun koans to consider. Neer shows how - like everything, really - things are never as straight-forward as they might seem....more
The Ginger Man is so many things at once: Like the best book I've ever read, as well as the worst. It's easily the worst book because of its hero, whoThe Ginger Man is so many things at once: Like the best book I've ever read, as well as the worst. It's easily the worst book because of its hero, who makes Humbert Humbert look like a pious man.* It is easily the best book because of its manly, sturdy, energetic prose. What man and the Celtic-Saxon race and red blood were made for.**
Overall, I prefer Sir Digby Chicken-Ceasar to Sebastian Dangerfield, as that former old gentleman is less of a misogynist and has his drinking problem under better control. But S Dangerfield has good times and tells the truth. It's just a shame so many lives are ravished in the process.
*At least with Humbert Humbert there was a moral basement. All he really wanted to do was sedate and serially rape a twelve year old. There's no moral basement with Sebastian Dangerfield. He has no mission and there is no limit to what he will do.
**The PROSE. The prose is what I refer to as sturdy and red blooded. Not the debauchery itself, but the outstanding way it is described. ...more
Karin Tidbeck admits in her afterward that she has a "Nordic voice." Anyone who's ever acquired a taste for saga or Edda or skaldic poetry - and subseKarin Tidbeck admits in her afterward that she has a "Nordic voice." Anyone who's ever acquired a taste for saga or Edda or skaldic poetry - and subsequently gone on Nordic pagan folklore benders - will be stunned by what happens to the traditional themes when run through a sensual, feminine filter.
Gardening, home preserves, and cardigan sweaters should mingle more freely with pre-Christian folklore. This collection of stories is sorely overdue. It puts things in a way I could not, no male writer could... It shares in a thrill I had long presumed a male phenomenon. Jagannath is (among other things) like feminine black metal. Do not imagine Etsy as black metal: imagine black metal as Etsy. ...more
It would be egomania to say that I feel a lot like Dag Hammarskjold. The scale of personal responsibility I have for the people of my county is a mereIt would be egomania to say that I feel a lot like Dag Hammarskjold. The scale of personal responsibility I have for the people of my county is a mere grain before the burden Hammarskjold bore for the world. Nevertheless, it's a responsibility I try to own with humility and the right attitude - an attitude based on the belief that every person of means (be they physical, emotional, or mental) has an obligation to take the hardest job and carry the greatest load they can - because there might not be anyone else if s/he doesn't.
That's the briefest possible explanation. It doesn't perfectly describe the whole of my attitude and philosophy any more than the same description could describe someone like Dag Hammarskjold. It's phrased in purely ethical dimensions that omit any greater humanistic - dare I say, spiritual - angles.
I'm currently very private about my personal spiritual beliefs. I've let exactly two people begin to understand them and have cultivated amicable misunderstanding among all my family and friends and colleagues for years. It seems to be the best solution to the problem of privacy and the intimacy of philosophy.
While Markings is not a devotional companion to scripture, it can't help but tell you things about yourself the way C.S. Lewis does. And in this capacity I found ways to organize my own philosophy by adding to my understanding of Hammarskjold (a person I have always admired as a public servant). Again - trying to avoid egomania - I was pleased to find so much of my independently arrived at thinking in line with the wiser, better man.
Markings is a "Christian book," but it could probably work for people who identify across a wide spectrum.* Anyone potentially deterred by the ostensible premise should be reassured of its relative objectivity. On the other hand, anyone looking for orthodoxy to boost denominational conviction might feel betrayed by Hammarskjold's equivocations, particularly on the issues of death and suicide.
*When Markings quotes from scripture, it is almost always from the Old Testament. Other religious texts similarly adhere mostly to Old Testament themes, including stuff from the Anglican Psalter and the Common Book of Prayer. When Hammarskjold cites philosophers, they are as like to be Kierkegaard as any of the gospel writers....more
Spin is reminiscent of other, seminal science fiction novels - Childhood's End, Stranger in a Strange Land, to name a couple. While it succeeds in imaSpin is reminiscent of other, seminal science fiction novels - Childhood's End, Stranger in a Strange Land, to name a couple. While it succeeds in imagining a more realistic, speculative future, Spin lacks those novels' conciseness and charm. The universe of Spin sprawls like Clarke's Rama - weighted down with superfluous non-necessities.
And, like all science fiction, the author seems addicted to the obnoxious overuse of ten dollar words like "chiliasm," when the book is basically written in pulpy, eighty-five cent paragraphs.
As science fiction goes, Spin is as enjoyable as anything I've come across as a jaded adult. But I hope genre writing will one day transcend its literary shortcomings and stand on the strength of its prose and not merely lean on the cleverness of its speculation. ...more