|From Mustangs to modernity... looking forward, and back.|
"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other." --H.P. Lovecraft, The Silver Key
Friday, June 24, 2022
Top Gun: Maverick, a review
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Whetstone #5: A review
What do we feel when we imagine a brutalized sword and sorcery writer laughing at the stars? What do we feel when we read about a mere mortal--an ephemeral form--violently confronting eternity, the cosmos, the infinite in all its eternal strangeness? Why are sword and sorcery writers obsessively drawn to their primary theme: the unresolved antagonism between the natural and the supernatural? The profane and the sacred? The individual and the cosmos?
Sunday, June 19, 2022
A lucky man this Father's Day
|The Murphy Clan.|
|These tasted as good as they look.|
My old man is 78 years old and not in the best of health, but today he was doing OK and so I got to spend a few hours with him on Father's Day.
We drank a couple beers in the driveway and ate some pretty good ribs I spent the day smoking. It was overcast and cool, perfect weather to sit outside and shoot the shit.
One story I don't believe I ever relayed here: When I was a boy my dad read to my brother and I Jack London's "The Call of the Wild." We were very young, I was no more than 7 or 8. It's probably unheard of these days to read something that old and raw and primitive and violent to children, but I loved every page of it, and am quite certain it fueled my love of the fantastic.
The t-shirt I'm wearing in this picture above was purchased in Ireland in 2007, during a trip I got to take with my old man. Ireland has a Murphy's Pub? Who knew.
Thanks for everything Dad. Happy Father's Day dude. Love you.
Friday, June 17, 2022
Lin Carter: Enthusiast of the Fantastic
Thursday, June 16, 2022
On staying in and weaving out of reading lanes, and Stephen King’s Christine
Feel the fury, of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury
My reading often keeps me in a well-worn, familiar travel lane.
That lane is, broadly, fantasy. Sword-and-sorcery being the sweet spot.
Adjacent lanes are horror, SF, and adventure fiction/historical fiction.
I also read a lot of non-fiction—some for work, some for self-improvement, but also stuff like WWII history, true crime, maritime disasters. I put non-fiction in a separate category. I read it with a destination in mind, getting things done for important reasons, like learning a new skill. Think airline business travel. As opposed to fiction which (ideally) is like getting behind the wheel of a 1969 Chevelle SS and hitting the gas.
Come to think of it, sword-and-sorcery is like a 1960s/70s muscle car. Loud, powerful, a little dangerous. Like a vintage muscle car I enjoy its aesthetics, how it performs. It has its drawbacks. It’s not always safe, or reliable. It has poor gas mileage. But, when its Robert E. Howard, or Fritz Leiber, or Poul Anderson, or Jack Vance, it’s pretty reliably fun, at least. Sometimes, more than that.
But occasionally I turn the wheel, to the left and right, and veer out of my reading lane. Once in a while I go off-roading, or change cars altogether.
The driving metaphors are coming freely/obnoxiously because right now I’m immersed in Stephen King’s Christine. I haven’t read this one in oh… 25 years? 30? I don’t know about you, but my mind is a sieve when it comes to retaining (most) details of books read long ago. So my memory of Christine is awful scant. The good news is, this 40-year-old book (published 1983) is almost new to me at this point.
Christine is quite good so far, very compelling. As King often is, especially his older stuff.
Anyways, the experience got me to thinking… what is my lane, and why do I stay in it? What causes me to drift, or swerve?
Underneath it’s all the same urge. To find great writing.
I place good, entertaining writing as the highest value in my fiction reading, regardless of what form it takes. Good writing is followed by interesting ideas. Third, but still important, are the comfortable, familiar tropes (swords, wizards, battles, magic, monsters).
It’s rare to get all of these in the same spot. When it does occur, as with something like The Lord of the Rings, “Beyond the Black River,” or Watership Down, it’s a book or a story that I will cherish, and return to again and again.
Back to Christine. This book definitely checks the first two boxes. It’s out of my fantasy/S&S lane. But, it delivers with good writing that is just plain fun. It almost feels cozy, with its ability to put me back in a time (it’s set in 1978) that is pretty close to my youth. The nostalgia is nice.
And, it contains an interesting idea.
The idea is the dangerous transition to adulthood. That’s what Christine represents. She is the machine that kids inherit, at 16 or 17 or 18, that guides them into a different phase of life. Buying your first car is a rite of passage. It feels adult, but it also allows you to escape the confines of your home, or immediate neighborhood, and go places. Making the transition to adulthood is something we all must do, and not all of us make it (literally—some die on the roadways, and figuratively--some remain stuck in perpetual childhood or adolescence).
That’s scary, and King skillfully handles this idea in Christine. As with this passage, my favorite so far:
By the time I had the mounted tire back in my trunk and had paid the guy two bucks for the job, the early evening light had become the fading purple of late evening. The shadow of each bush was long and velvety, and as I cruised slowly back up the street I saw the day’s last light streaming almost horizontally through the trash-littered space between the Arby’s and the bowling alley. That light, so much flooding gold, was nearly terrible in its strange, unexpected beauty.
I was surprised by a choking panic that climbed up in my throat like dry fire. It was the first time a feeling like that came over me that year—that long, strange year—but not the last. Yet it’s hard for me to explain, or even define. It had something to do with realizing that it was August 11, 1978, that I was going to be a senior in high school next month, and that when school started again it meant the end of a long, quiet phase of my life. I was getting ready to be a grown-up, and I saw that somehow—saw it for sure, for the first time in that lovely but somehow ancient spill of golden light flooding down the alleyway between a bowling alley and a roast beef joint. And I think I understood then that what really scares people about growing up is that you stop trying on the life-mask and start trying on another one. If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.
I love that line, “end of a long, quiet phase of my life”… that so describes my early years, too. And King’s familiar, blue-collar details—the Arby’s, the bowling alley—make it feel real, and relatable.
I suspect King was remembering a similar scene from his past, that flood of golden light, and that realization. And channeling his own experiences of growing up, and making the difficult transition to adulthood.
Christine also has something of the tropes I like. A demonic, ghostly car. But, this comes third. A possessed car is kind of a dumb idea to be honest. King makes it work, because he has the first two elements down pat.
In summary, here’s what I like about fiction.
- A great story that takes you to another place. When the author does so with tension, spooled out, building to a crescendo, maybe 2-3 times during the same book or story, I’ll read this book.
- The interesting idea underneath.
- The cool details, the paint and polish and shiny hood ornaments. Aka, the genre.
A bad story will miss on all three, or focus on one to the detriment of the others. You need balance. The worst is probably the story that aims at no. 3 and fails even at that. Think of the loud and dumb barbarian protagonist that apes Conan, or the splatterpunk horror author who copies King’s gruesome details but whose writing lacks heart or purpose, or the requisite skill.
So yeah, Christine is not sword-and-sorcery, but is very much in an adjacent lane of my reading tastes. It checks (most of) the boxes I enjoy.
Now we’ll see if King can stick the landing—not his strongest suit.
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Thune's Vision/Schuyler Hernstrom
|I love this cover... weird and trippy, violence beneath, like the contents.|
DMR Books/Dave Ritzlin has published my review of Thune's Vision, by Schuyler Hernstrom. Head over and give it a read; it's spoiler free but hopefully speaks to why I think so highly of it, and this author.
If you like sword-and-sorcery/sword-and-planet/weird fiction, and care as to whether it will survive in the current era, you should support good modern authors who practice it. Try this, or his The Eye of Sounnu. You won't be disappointed. In an age when Brandon Sanderson can net $41M on a kickstarter (seriously? what the fuck) we need to find a way to support sword-and-sorcery authors who can deliver great storytelling, and paint worlds, and make you think, in 1/4 of the real estate of most "fat fantasy."
Thune's Vision is now available for purchase on Amazon. I believe DMR will be reselling as well.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
S&S updates: Scaling the walls of Venarium, and assorted essays
Friday, June 10, 2022
Master of the Wind, Manowar
Fly away to a rainbow in the sky
Gold is at the end for each of us to find.
There the road begins where another one will end,
Here the four winds know who will break and who will bend
All to be the Master of the wind.
Saturday, June 4, 2022
RIP Ken Kelly
RIP Ken Kelly, the man who married hard rock and metal with sword-and-sorcery. Like this, for example:
Read my tribute on the website of DMR Books.
Friday, June 3, 2022
(Other) stuff that got me into S&S: Rogues in the House leftovers
|The RitH Army wants you!|
Thursday, June 2, 2022
Metal Friday: Nativity in Black
|"Everybody knows that Black Sabbath started everything and almost |
every single thing that people are playing today has already been done by Black Sabbath.
They wrote every single good riff... ever." -- Rob Zombie
I’ll admit it: As a young heavy metal devotee I was not much of a Black Sabbath fan. That’s not strong enough: I was probably a couple degrees removed from scorn of the legendary British metal act, a stance born out of ignorance.
When I started listening to heavy metal in the late 1980s, Sabbath was no longer “in.” Far from it. Iron Maiden? They were in. American thrash bands like Anthrax, Megadeth, and especially Metallica, yeah, definitely in. Sabbath in comparison seemed like old fogies and has-beens; next to “Disposable Heroes,” the likes of “Iron Man” felt pretty, well, disposable.
By that time Ozzy had long been booted from the band, Dio had departed for an illustrious solo career, and the band was far past its peak. After taking a brief hiatus in the mid-80s, Sabbath brought in Tony Martin as lead vocalist and released The Eternal Idol (1987) and Headless Cross (1989). Both albums were met with indifference by heavy metal magazines and Headbangers Ball. Probably not unfairly, either. They were out of step with the metal scene at the time.
Now, I knew the name Black Sabbath carried legendary status among metal die-hards, and I liked a couple of their songs well enough. But, I was not on the bandwagon. I just didn’t know enough of their classic songs, and lacked an understanding of their incalculable contributions, or the awesomeness of hits like “Into the Void,” “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Symptom of the Universe.” Keep in mind this was the pre-internet era, and so exploring their catalog via Spotify or Youtube was not an option. Even had I wanted to listen to Sabbath, I didn’t own any of their tapes (yes, I said tapes damnit). I had minimal income and buying their back catalog was difficult, and had minimal appeal for my thrash and Maiden obsessed self.
But something occurred in 1994 that changed my perception of the band, forever. Ironically it was not a Black Sabbath album, but a Sabbath tribute album. I’m talking about the appearance of Nativity in Black.
I don’t know what prompted me to buy this album; by then I had more disposable income and I think I may have read a good review in Kerrang or somewhere else. It may have been that I was a huge fan of the artists featured on the album, including the likes of Biohazard, White Zombie, Sepultura, and of course Bruce Dickinson. Regardless, I’m glad I bought it.
By then I had graduated to CDs, and immediately realized upon first spin of this new-fangled shiny disc that the album rocked. Hard. Nativity in Black is a classic. I love Sepultura’s cover of “Symptom of the Universe,” Bruce ripping through “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” and Type O Negative’s downbeat, doom-laden version of “Black Sabbath.” I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that the mysterious Bullring Brummies, who covered “The Wizard,” was fronted by none other than Rob Halford. Oh, and Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were also part of this undercover band, formed solely to play one song on the album.
But my favorite song on Nativity in Black has to go to “Children of the Grave” by White Zombie. If this doesn’t get you headbanging I don’t know what will. It’s a killer cover. Rob Zombie and co. amp up the pace (and bass) to add an additional layer of heaviness, add in snippets of newscaster reports of the Manson murders, and change a few key words ("love" is changed to "hell" in one verse) which lends the song a far more sinister air than the original.
Needless to say this album kindled my interest in Sabbath and led to me exploring their back catalog. And the rest is history.
Here is the aforementioned “Children of the Grave.” Give it a listen and see if you agree if it earns the killer status I've accorded it.