"Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Neverthele...more"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.(less)
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, who...moreThe 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. (less)
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 subse...moreKarin 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. (less)
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 mere...moreIt 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.(less)
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 ima...moreSpin 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. (less)
The Waterworks is the least remarkable E. L. Doctorow novel I've read. Not being especially versed in historical fiction or detective stories, I don't...moreThe Waterworks is the least remarkable E. L. Doctorow novel I've read. Not being especially versed in historical fiction or detective stories, I don't know how this fares by genre standards. A casual observer, such as myself, may be forgiven for feeling like David Lynch meets Gore Vidal. (less)
Gather, Darkness! Is nothing short of a disaster. I've spent a month fumbling for a better word, but "disaster" is as accurate a word as I can come up...moreGather, Darkness! Is nothing short of a disaster. I've spent a month fumbling for a better word, but "disaster" is as accurate a word as I can come up with. The book tries to be everything - which few (as in, literally a couple of) serious master writers can handle. Lieber is like a kid who finds himself straddling a motorcycle with more power than he can control. Rather than looking cool and doing some fly wheelies, he drives it through the backyard fence and makes it onto a musical montage on AFV.
It's a shame, because Lieber's main characters are genuinely engaging (a rarity in genre fiction). Losing one's religion from the high platform of an archbishopric is a heavy subject and damn if Lieber doesn't handle it with poise. But when you introduce magic wands, a 200 foot animatronic candy dispensing Jesus, and - no shit - robot angels in jet packs... You're in over your literary and philosophical head. Lieber dug this hole for himself. It's his own damn fault he couldn't get out and this book is such a disaster.(less)
Joe Perniece's impression of Meat Is Murder is somewhere between Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude and a version of The Wonder Years set in the J...moreJoe Perniece's impression of Meat Is Murder is somewhere between Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude and a version of The Wonder Years set in the John Hughes universe. It's a pretty narrow tale of a standard issue, suburban white heterosexual teenage American sexual quest. Which is disappointing considering this was supposedly penned in contemplation of a thing as nuanced, androgynous, and confused as The Smiths.
In the amount of time it takes to read the novella one could have, instead, listened to the album itself three times and perhaps experienced a wider swath of feeling.(less)
Hideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While it...moreHideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While it shouldn't be hard to analyze black metal, justifying its more out of control elements is a huge challenge simply not met by this anthology of essayists trying to outdo each other with impenetrable analysis. Naming the endless permutations of nihilism within the genre is as farcical here as the flagpole scene in A Christmas Story (why not just commit the social faux pas and say black metal is "triple dog nihilism" and end the farce?). Trying to define "transcendent" versus "hyperborean" schools is nothing more than a way to help North Americans overcome their inferiority complexes. Whatever the true reason North Americans are not the Norwegians' peers when it comes to black metal is not explained, elaborate charts and technical diagrams notwithstanding.*
The best question explored in Hideous Gnosis is whether black metal is the present extreme limit of a style, is misanthropy, or a (Northern European focused) pagan cultural movement. Predictably, there's not a definitive answer. But thankfully, the theory that black metal is a pagan movement and not a weak excuse to be disrespectful toward others' convictions remains a possibility and isn't refuted by all the bad philosophy.
What Hideous Gnosis doesn't tackle head on are the problems those of us who became interested in black metal as an aesthetic or artistic thing found when we investigated the substance beneath. Racism is the biggest problem in black metal. Cruelty to animals and misogyny come in close seconds and thirds. The really violent escalatory spiral of one-upsmanship ended in the 90s; black metal musicians burn fewer churches and kill each other far less often today. But the danger of such a tensely ratcheted purity standard requires that new atrocious acts will be committed in the name of black metal. The cycle doesn't just need to be slowed or arrested, it needs to be stopped. An it needs to be stopped affirmatively, not by atrophy. Obviously a symposium cannot do this any more than a UN summit can stop acts of state sponsored atrocity - but a symposium is assumed to represent a meeting of the minds. Even without the possibility of saving the world, a think tank is supposed to at least discuss what it would do if given a magic wand. Alas, Hideous Gnosis doesn't think so much of its collective powers of reasoning.
That's not to say there aren't solid points and good writing in Hideous Gnosis. There are. Unfortunately there's also really bad writing that thinks it can overwhelm with obscure citation where clear observation would suffice.** (Every featured writer here would have done well to read "Politics and the English Language".) Hideous Gnosis is like an anthology for an enigmatic fanzine, only the fanzine never existed, did not run a course, and didn't change lives on its own merit. Hideous Gnosis is publicity for a few serious thinkers and their Internet associates. It will not be standard reading for music or art students.
*The simplest answer for why Scandinavian metal focuses on Norse mythology and had such a passionate bone to pick with Christianity while North American metal is more like a misanthropic hippie movement is simply the insular, homogenous quality of Scandinavian culture and history. America is far too much of a melting pot. We've all had a pagan tradition stripped from us somewhere back there. And we've all had a foreign monotheistic religion imposed on us. But the actual pagan tradition is too far lost and too diluted to legitimately feel in ghost form. And even the way we experienced organized religion varies depending on where a person's ancestry hails from. Most people in Scandinavia can trace themselves back to the pre-Christian people. Few people in North America can. That's why we aren't as mad at the Pope as the Norwegians and why we put deer antlers and owl feathers on everything. The deer antlers are an abstraction where a desecrated devotional icon is quite literal.
**Two of the essayists used Foucault and Derrida in the same essay. For some reason, John K Samson did the same. But is it all a coincidence? Did all three really come across the same writers through independent graduate study - or did I stumble on a transparent pane in all this haute intellectualism? Did the metal guys read about Foucault and Derrida because of the same Weakerthans song? If so... ?!?!?!(less)