Friday, May 27, 2022

Seven weeks off Facebook, a few observations

Fuck I don’t miss that noise.

If you want to get more done—write more, read more, have more meaningful relationships, enjoy a better focus and healthier mindset—get off the platform.

I am posting far more here on The Silver Key, because I have suddenly found more hours in the day.

I am reading more books, with more attention.

I am calling and talking to friends more often.

I am writing up a storm on LinkedIn, actual thoughtful business content.

I don’t need to read other people’s hot takes on gun control/no gun control, abortion/not abortion, Trump/never Trump. As if what you write on these topics will ever change anyone’s mind. They won’t. Better off pissing into a headwind; at least you only piss on yourself.

There is room for all these conversations. They should be had. But not everyone needs to have an opinion on every issue. 

Most people haven’t figured this out, so I’ll say it again: You don’t need to have an opinion on everything. You can remain silent, and think, and admit you don’t know, rather than spew shit on Facebook, and demonstrate your ignorance to the world.

If you believe in a cause, great! Act. Get involved. Do something beyond hot takes on social media, that vanish into the ether. And then follow the media's lead and move on to the next "outrage." Remember all the outrage about masking/not masking? 

I don’t want to sound smug about my decision (that’s how I viewed people who made these breaks, outwardly and loudly, in the past. Which is why I just deleted my account without fanfare). But I’m glad I made it, unequivocally. And I think you should at least consider the same, a short break even, see what happens.

Time is our only non-renewable resource, and social media platforms ravenously eat your time, which you’ll never get back. Engaging in nonsense, blood-pressure raising discussions is one way Facebook eats your life. But passive scrolling, and “likes,” which is what Facebook/Instagram/TikTok, etc. encourages, eats up your time in an insidious fashion, far more than you know. 

Companies are monetizing you, selling your data. If you’re not paying for something, odds are you’re the product, not the customer.

I may still get back on, someday, but if it happens it will be for a targeted, specific reason. 

For now, for anyone wondering, seven weeks later I’m still off. And have confirmed, you don’t need that shit. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

S&S-related updates and news

A roundup of stuff happening in my favorite subgenre.

I won’t be going to Cross Plains, TX for Howard Days after all. I was leaning heavily in that direction, but several factors have converged to derail my trip. Starting a new job, after I had already pre-booked a week of vacation in June, was probably the biggest. That, coupled with family matters including college expenses and the estimated cost of the trip, plus some parental issues, caused me to put it off. A real bummer because there are several folks in the S&S/Howard communities attending this year that I’d love to meet, and of course it means another year on the planet not having visited the hallowed Howard homestead. It will still happen, someday, and soon.

Speaking of Howard, the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, vol. 2, is now available for pre-order by the Robert E. Howard Foundation. I will be picking this up. The Foundation sold out of a first printing years ago and my collection of Howard letters is incomplete.

The Whetstone Discord S&S group continues to foster and promote new authors, and I realize I need to check out a couple of recent releases. These include the likes of Hag of the Hills by JTT Rider. I love my old S&S but I’m trying to support new material when it comes out, too.

This week I received an email from Ingram Spark, which appears to be Pilum Press’s printing outfit, stating that Thune’s Vision has been received for printing. As I’ve stated before Schuyler Hernstrom is (in my non-exhaustive experience) the most exciting and talented new voice to hit the S&S scene. Really looking forward to this volume, which I recently backed on Kickstarter.

Flame and Crimson has been reviewed by Darrell Schweitzer in Dead Reckonings #31 (Hippocampus Press). I have not read the review but will be. I admit with some guilt that I have not done much of anything on Schweitzer here on the blog or elsewhere, despite the fact that he’s a talented writer and critic whom I’ve enjoyed (I recently re-read his “The Hag” in Swords Against Darkness III, which was pretty terrific).

I recently subscribed to Thews You Can Use, which you can find in my blogroll at right. This is the name we all wish we had thought of for our own S&S newsletters.

I still haven’t seen The Northman (#failure). I recently went to view it on On Demand and a single viewing was priced at $19.95. Are you kidding me? I’d possibly buy a DVD or Blue Ray disc at that price, but not digital vaporware. Still, looking forward to watching this soon. I’ve been assiduously ducking spoilers including a recent episode of Rogues in the House with Sara Frazetta on the film. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The fine sounds of a silver stringed bard


Ghouls, guitars, and gals... good stuff.

My latest essay/review is up on the blog of Tales from the Magician's Skull. Check out The Far-Flung Literary Webs of Manly Wade Wellman.

I have been a fan of Wellman for some time, but only casually, and only through his Kardios S&S stories and a handful of other tales. I had not read any of his Silver John stories.

That was a mistake I'm glad I rectified with the collection Who Fears the Devil?

These stories are set in mid-20th century America but have a sword-and-sorcery heartbeat and soul to them. A wandering outsider/bard, armed with a silver-stringed guitar instead of a sword, running afoul of monsters and magic and ne'er do well-ers in the deep woods of Appalachia. All told with a master story teller's skilled hand. 

If you haven't yet read of John, aka., John the Balladeer, aka. Silver John, you're in for a treat.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A rant on the practice of maddening literalism

I’m not one for rants these days… I try to keep things positive, always, because life is short, and walking around angry is no way to live it.

But … (and you knew the “but” was coming) … when I get comments like this on a celebration of 40 years of Conan it’s hard not to see a bit of red. See below, and my polite response on the website of DMR Books. I wanted to write something a lot worse, but decided to save the rant for here.

Some people are so maddeningly literal, that they, to use a tired cliché, can’t see the forest for the trees.

Imagine if you will watching a stirring film like Conan the Barbarian, in 1982 on the big screen, with an audience cheering around you. As the credits roll they rise to their feet, cheering, in celebration of the operatic grandeur. And, as the lights come up, uttering out loud “why did Conan have an Austrian accent when his father did not?” 

You’d be the turd in the punch bowl. I’d be throwing boxes of popcorn at you. And you’d deserve it.

You get a dude who says “Carter did not contribute much to the novelization, or so I have read somewhere.” First of all, an attempted correction better come with an attribution. Second of all, read what I wrote. I said the novel feels like Carter may have written it in a weekend, soaked in cognac and wreathed in cigarette smoke, cribbing off the manuscript. This is obviously not an attempt by me at scholarship on the manuscript of the novelization, which should be evident by anyone reading it. I was being a bit cheeky. Were I writing scholarship on the novelization, and not a celebration of 40 years of Conan, I would have put the time in to dig up as much detail on that crappy novel as I could. Moreover, what I wrote is a perfectly valid observation; the novelization, which I just read, feels that way to me. Slapdash, and Carter-ian.

Aside: If you are going to allow your name to be listed as co-author of the book, and receive remuneration, as Carter did, the responsibility for said content is yours. Anything in that book is Carter’s responsibility.

Likewise, IDGAF if Von Sydow is “Swedish, not German.” Oh by the way he is of German ancestry. But I don’t care; again if I’m reading a biography of Von Sydow I’d love to see all that spelled out in detail. But not in a post like the one I wrote. 

You’ve gotta understand time and place and intent, man. Context.

You know who another maddeningly literal person was? L. Sprague de Camp, who admitted to utterly abandoning Robert E. Howard for years, after discovering a historical anachronism, a reference to a stirrup prior to their purported invention, in one of Howard’s historical stories. 

Can you imagine doing that? And potentially missing out on Kull and Solomon Kane and Conan and everything that came after? It certainly did not stop de Camp from later returning to milk as much as he could from the property. By writing shitty novelizations like Conan the Barbarian, among other things. Maybe the dude should have walked. 

Now I’m being petty. 

But, this is why Howard stopped writing historical fiction, because idiot nit-pickers who cannot see the forest for the trees focus on minor, inconsequential details, and lose the entire plot as a result, and miss out on things like poetry, and beauty, which De Camp utterly lacked (which is why he was incapable of writing convincing Howard pastiche). That’s actually a fault and a deficiency on the part of the critic. Not on Howard’s part, but De Camp’s. It’s called a contextual error.

Now, for the nitpickers reading this, am I saying that accuracy and attention to detail are irrelevant? 

Not in the slightest. But, there is a time and place for it. 

Detailed histories (and I take fault for any errors in Flame and Crimson) and biographies should be accurate. Even then, they must focus on certain things to the exclusion of others, unless you enjoy reading encyclopedias—something else altogether. If you are working in a pharmacy compounding life-saving prescriptions, or in a hospital laboratory, or precision machining, you better be accurate. But this is not the way to approach reading or watching fucking Conan the Barbarian 1982, or reading someone’s nostalgia-fueled recollections of it. Conan is, to be technical for a moment, from a dim and remote part of our own history, but a fabricated pseudo-history, pulled from pseudo “historical” fragments like the Book of Skelos and ghostly recollections, the voices of spirits at Howard’s shoulder. Most read this stuff for the story, the characters, the magic and wonder, the vivid atmosphere, the visceral action, the plotting. If you read it for detailed accuracy in a timeline, or exact 1:1 historical correlations, and get tripped up on why Howard said “bascinet” or something in an out of context manner, odds are you’ll be disappointed. But this is precisely the mindset Howard was trying to get away from.

If that’s your jam, fine, but I think you’re missing something amazing by engaging in this practice, all the time.

TL;DR, nitpicking details is an obnoxious practice. 

I’m sure I’m being thin-skinned about this, and possibly picking on someone who may be being earnest, and not a know-it-all. But there you have it.

Now I’ll try to be a good boy again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Conan the Barbarian (1982) at 40

The barbarian triumphant... and contemplative.

My latest post is up on DMR Books. Conan the Barbarian at 40 (can it really have been 40 years)? It seems like just yesterday I watched it for the first time, peering through my fingers as my old man fell asleep on the couch. I entered a rough and violent world, one that spoke to me like very few films have ever managed to do, before or since.

I'll be honest, I think this film is genius. Not flawless, but a work of true inspiration. John Milius put a lot of love and ideas and care into this film, and an uncompromising vision. Sure, he took a lot of liberties with REH's character, but I maintain that if you dissociate the film protagonist from the literary figure, and enjoy it as a Howard-inspired sword-and-sorcery film, you can't help but be moved.

Anyways, hop over to DMR, read the post, and let me know what you think. Love or hate CtB, I always enjoy talking about the film.

By the way I mention near the end of the post that I recently re-read the novelization of the film by DeCamp and Carter. This did not hold up, and probably deserves a post of its own at some point. Stick with the movie.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Everything about this is good (Iron Maidens at Wally's, Hampton Beach)

This is what we call a 10/10. 

I had the pleasure of seeing the Iron Maidens last night at Wally's on Hampton Beach. Yes, this is an all-ladies tribute to the great Iron Maiden. Apparently they've been around in some form or fashion since 2001. I've heard good things about them since discovering them a few years back, and now after seeing the Maidens live I can confirm, they rock. Hard.

"Powerslave" contains either my favorite Maiden guitar solo, or second fave after "Stranger in a Strange Land." And Nikki Stringfield, aka, "Davina Murray," nailed it last night. I took this clip with my iphone and missed the tail end of "Adrian's" second solo, but you get the gist. Incredibly well-done.

Also good lord, Stringfield is something to look at on stage. That doesn't hurt. She is smoking and a smoking guitar player. That combo is my kryptonite. 

This was my first time at Wally's, a bit of a rough biker bar a stone's throw from the Atlantic ocean. The bar was jammed, the whole beach scene was jammed. 85 degree weather, the first summer-like day of the year after a cold and shitty spring, brought out the crowds and traffic. I had a blast hanging out with a friend and former work colleague, and a buddy of his.

So yeah, Iron Maidens: If you get the chance, see them, highly recommended.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Orgasmatron, Motorhead

I am the one, Orgasmatron, the outstretched grasping hand
My image is of agony, my servants rape the land
Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousand years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion; sadistic, sacred whore

--Orgasmatron, Motorhead

Motorhead's "Orgasmatron" is about as straightforward, brutal, and heavy as it gets. Crank this one and headbang.

I think what I most admire about this song are the lyrics. This is an expression of war, the glory of war, the god-awfulness of war, condensed into a four minute piledriver of a song. As here:

I march before a martyred world, an army for the fight
I speak of great heroic days, of victory and might
I hold a banner drenched in blood, I urge you to be brave
I lead you to your destiny, I lead you to your grave
Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown
For I am Mars, the God of War, and I will cut you down

"Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown," Jesus. Genghis Khan is nodding his head somewhere from beyond the grave.

I must add that this song was covered exceptionally well by Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura. In fact I probably prefer their version over the original. Including it here for comparison's sake:

RIP Lemmy. You crushed the world once, and made it your own. We miss you down here on earth.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Reading Plato, some observations

Confession: I’ve got gaps in my philosophy, Horatio. I have a basic familiarity with the broad tenets of some of the major schools. I have read deeper in a few areas I have found interesting, including the major works of existentialism, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the foundations of stoicism. But when it comes to the classic works my cupboard is pretty lean.

Inspired by the Online Great Books podcast, I decided to pick up Plato’s Five Great Dialogues, a book that includes the classics The Republic and The Apology. I read portions of these in high school or thereabouts, as I remembered the allegory of the cave and a few other bits. Back then I lacked the life experiences to take much from it; today I have a whole different appreciation for what these books say, and mean, and still have to teach us, thousands of years after they were written.

I won’t even bother trying to summarize what thousands of scholars and historians have already done before me, and far better, but rather just offer up a few takeaways and observations that hit home for me, personally.

Reading Plato is a cold drink of water for the soul. His dialogues are a series of questions about what life is all about, including why we behave as we do, how to govern ourselves, and in general what makes for a meaningful existence. These are written in a dialectical style. Plato’s subject, Socrates, engages in dialogues with a series of interlocutors, probing deeper at common but unexplored understandings and surface assumptions until they eventually arrive at a deep level of truth, possibly the bottom. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates says. Amen.

Plato’s theory of forms makes the case that there are transcendent ideas—justice, temperance, etc.—that transcend the physical. These ideas cannot be explained by science and studied at some atomic/structural level. But they are no less real, and in fact are more important than material existence. Some might take this theory of forms for granted, but it’s a stunning revelation, the framework upon which the rest of the book hangs.

Socrates/Plato believe in the immortal soul. We can deduce the presence of a soul by its absence (i.e., by looking upon a dead body, and finding it inert). The soul is a therefore a form. Like an odd number, it is irreducible by the presence of an even number—an even number does not destroy an odd number; in the same manner, death cannot destroy the soul, it merely parts it from the physical body. I like this, for obvious reasons.

Wisdom and truth-seeking are the highest virtues of mankind. Not "happiness" or wealth-seeking or sensual luxury. Plato believes in the existence of absolute truth and absolute beauty. Subjectivity is a form of blindness when it comes to truth-seeking. This declaration flies in the face of identity politics, which posit that every culture is morally equivalent, and that everyone’s subjective internal monologue is “truth speaking” and sacrosanct. Yes, we all have opinions, and have the freedom to express them, but some are far more worthy than others. Those that seek out absolute truth and absolute beauty, and wisdom and temperance, and make them their north star, are fit to lead, according to Plato.

Plato believes that the best form of government is a ruling class of philosopher-kings. These are chosen not by birthright, but by innate ability, and forged and tempered with exceptional physical and mental education. Rulers must exhibit a soundness of mind and body, and a willingness to sacrifice, to not even own wealth, lest they fall prey to corruption and graft. This structure transcends oligarchy and monarchy, even democracy and other forms of governance subject to nepotism and corruption. This is not a caste system, however. Children of these rulers, if unfit, cannot serve; those from warrior or merchant classes can move up into this class if they demonstrate the same fitness. Many today recoil from this portion of Plato but it is a framework worth pondering (some in fact have made the case that Plato himself did not take this too seriously, but was using the opportunity to satirize the corruption of the Athenian city-state and take the piss out of it). Nevertheless, this declaration is FIRE: “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils—no, nor the human race, as I believe—and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.”

Finally, there is heroism of the highest sort to be found in Plato. Socrates could have fled his execution, and in fact had ample opportunity to do so, but refused. He faces his death with equanimity and perfect clarity, because he has been condemned by his beloved city of Athens. To run would be to deny orderly society in favor of individual selfishness, and thereby debase himself. It’s so damned noble, exhibiting a degree of principle most will never fully comprehend, let alone live out. Yet this is what Plato encourages us to do, and what makes him worth reading today.

Friday, May 6, 2022

RIP Neal Adams

Every year in May I go to a major conference that takes me out of action for the better part of a week. And when I say out of action, I mean I'm up early and going straight on through the night with dinners and receptions. So shit gets missed, or put on the back burner until I can get back home and come up for air.

One of those events was the passing of the great comics artist Neal Adams.

Rather than try to recap Adams' impact and extraordinary art, I'll just point you in the direction of Deuce Richardson's fine tribute over on the blog of DMR Books. Deuce is one of the best, maybe the best, at this kind of thing--recapping careers, digging up rare and extraordinary art, and packaging it all together in a personal, moving style that makes you realize he is a true fan and aficionado. So go do that, and tip back a cold one in honor of the late Neal Adams this weekend.

I'm borrowing one of the images from Deuce's post because it's new to me, and facially it might capture Conan's smoldering savagery better than anything I've seen before.

This next one from Savage Tales might be my favorite, but Adams left a legacy far too large to sum up in any one image.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Podcasted on Friends of the Merrill Collection

Last year I did a podcast interview with Oliver Brackenbury, host of Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection. I remember having fun with this one and taking a pretty deep dive into sword-and-sorcery on it, including writing Flame and Crimson and speculation on the future of the genre.

The episode is now live and you can listen here. Give it a listen!