Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Authenticity, Inward and Outward

The third in a series about my personal values. Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

I lived a big chunk of my life like a chameleon, changing who I was depending on the person I happened to be with. This behavior began when I was young, unformed, and figuring things out, so I give myself a little grace. I was a wanna be nerd… a wanna be jock… a wanna be metalhead, never going all in on anything, including myself.

But I allowed it to persist, for too long. 

Why? Out of fear. That I would not be accepted, or that I would be judged, and rejected. Mocked, and humiliated.

The inauthentic life is a terrible one to live. I can tell you from experience.

That’s why my third value is authenticity, inward and outward.

Humans crave authenticity. Today more than ever, we need it. Not posturing on social media with false humility or false bravado. But people being who they are in the real world, living their inner lives outwards. 

People are a miracle, each unique and irreplaceable. So why not embrace who you are?

Yet we often don’t. Because of social pressures, the feeling we should conform with the herd. Authenticity can come with a cost. It’s not always easy, and not always acceptable. 

Many of these pressures are self-imposed. The result of self-shaming, or lack of confidence. Occasionally, they’re external.

I believe we have made progress as a society here. For example, “nerds” aren’t as picked upon, or mocked, as they once were. D&D players have even figured out a way to monetize the hobby and achieve celebrity status, for example (if someone can let this D&D player know how that’s done, let me know). Being gay is not the same stigma it once was, in most circles (I’m aware in some backward places and in some misguided hearts, it is. We’ll always have bigots, unfortunately). 

Today harassment and bullying is rightly considered a toxic behavior, and tolerance and acceptance of others, virtues. 

But even if the real fight is not from without, authenticity still takes bravery. It must start from within. To be truly authentic I believe you have to recognize that you are worthy of love. Easier said than done.

But it’s worth leaning into. You’ll lead a better life.

When you stop worrying what others think about you, you free up huge amounts of headspace. It is liberating and empowering. It might cost you some friends, but they were never your friends to begin with. Mature human beings don’t feel the need to hang out with people who are exactly the same as them, and accept differences. 

Here’s a strategy for living your life more authentically.

Take your sense of self-worth down a peg. Recognize that no one sits around thinking about you—they’re too busy thinking about themselves. At least outside of your immediate family. Your spouse thinks about you, from time to time, and I’m sure your children do too. And vice-versa.

But for the most part everyone is walking around absorbed in their own problems, occupying their own headspace.

So stop caring so much what others think about you, because they’re actually not. If they do, it’s a passing thought, then they’re back to worrying about their own shit.

I’ve chosen to be me, not someone else. 

Be true within; project that truth out. Live authentically. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Death Dealer 3: Semi-enjoyable (?) train-wreck

I’m back at it again, with a long-awaited review of Death Dealer 3: Tooth and Claw. Check out my reviews of book 1 and book 2 of this four-part sword-and-sorcery epic by James Silke.

Short, negative review: Tooth and Claw ranks among the worst books I’ve read in the last decade. The series keeps going downhill (and book 1 was not even that good).

Longer and slightly more positive review: Tooth and Claw is bad enough to cross over into WTF I can’t believe I just read that territory, and so stands out as more memorable trash than many of the boring Conan clones and generic S&S offerings I’ve read over the years.

But it’s still awful. And awful crazy.

How crazy?

Well there’s this bit:

He was the size of a tree. He was indomitable. He was immaculate. He urinated white wine, his feces were soft gold, and he ejaculated lightning.

Would I be surprised to learn the author typed the manuscript while snorting coke off a hooker’s ass? No, not really.

I’m not making any accusations here, I don’t know Silke personally, but Death Dealer 3 was published in 1989 and possessed of a crazy, whacked out Wolf of Wall Street vibe I recognize. There’s so much nonsensical, bonkers stuff in here, told wildly and with intense energy and conviction, but with sloppy execution and abysmal, eye-gouging turns of phrase.

This is basically man romance. Romance for a certain kind of man, who like their women stunningly hot, offer them few words before and after the deed but possess the skill to play them like a medieval instrument:

Tonight he would tie her down in his hide-up and play upon her like a lyre, arouse her untamed passions until she could not resist him. 

Or this bit of late-night Cinemax magic:

Gath stepped out of the concealing shadow for a clearer look. His eyes moved down the deep shadowed curve of her back to the cleft in her hard buttocks, then back up again, painting her pale flesh with his dark hot glance…. A stimulating animal pleasure rose into his groin. Heat played across his cheeks.

The plot of Death Dealer 3 hinges on the flimsiest of hooks—a disreputable bounty hunter named Gazul (with the incredibly stupid nickname “Big Hands”) wants to capture the cat-queen, Noon. Gazul offers Gath the chance to fight Noon’s guardian, the giant saber-toothed tiger Chyak, because it’s more challenge-worthy than any other fight anyone else could ever have. Which appeals to Gath, who otherwise is wandering around without purpose.

That’s the entire setup for the remainder of the book. 

This wouldn’t stand up as a plot for the weakest episode of Thundarr, yet here we are. Gath accepts the offer and we’re off, fighting lyncanthropic beast-men, lions, crocodiles and all manner of beasts of the jungle before the final confrontation with Chyak and Gazul.

The Death Dealer books stand at the far end of the barbarian archetype/stereotype, not the apex but the nadir of this type of fiction. How do you distinguish yet another barbarian from the countless others that have gone before? Make yours bigger, stronger, more barbaric. Gath is a brute force of wild nature, so deep into barbarism that at one point he strips naked, eats raw animal flesh and fails to recognize familiar faces, even losing his ability to speak (he’s channeling his animal “kaa,” you see). You can’t get more raving barbarian than this dude. He’s not a character, but a caricature. 

Silke attempts something of an origin story for Gath in this volume but it comes across as uninspired Tarzan pastiche. He also attempts to bring some level of introspection to the story with a muted/equivocal ending, some regret and “who is the real monster” angle to the proceedings. I won’t spoil it here, in case you want to seek this out. I read Tooth and Claw through to the end, groaning the whole way except when I was laughing. There is some entertainment value here; I’d probably watch a movie made out of this mess. The problem is, what works in a low-budget beer-swilling 90 minute film is not optimal for a 342 page book treatment. It sags, and there are all sorts of problems with the pacing, authorial emphasis, and cringe-worthy dialogue. Like this:

“Think of it this way, sweethips,” Gazul said callously. “Fear is a marvelous cosmetic. It puts real color in your cheeks.”

And this:

“Barbarian, I understand why you are upset. In my drunken rage at you for running off, I used Fleka wrongly. She is yours, and I should not have used her as a lure without your permission. But now that your fist has rewarded me for that mistake, we are even.”

Silke loves writing wildly indulgent and floridly descriptive paragraphs punctuated by two words. Like this:

Gnarled hands gripped the bars, appendages of the lurking darkness bent within, a wounded, scabbed darkness with hard gray eyes. Hot. Relentless. 

And this:

Lowering to hands and knees, she crawled closer to the cage, and hesitated abruptly. The bars were the colors of flowers, a dazzle of pinks and reds and scarlets. Enchanting. Compelling.

In and amongst the cringe there is entertainment value to be had, including a 12-page fight between Gath and Chyak. 

Death Dealer goes to 11... 12 for sabertooth tiger fights
A 12 page tiger fight. Cuz 11 is not enough.

Is this bad trash or glorious trash? Your mileage will vary, hard. Personally I need never read this series again. But Death Dealer is an interesting historical artifact and probably worth it if you’re after the terrific Frank Frazetta cover art, or a fearless S&S diehard junky who can’t get enough of the subgenre—good, bad, and ugly. 

And there’s still more to come with Death Dealer 4. The story continues…whenever I get around to it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Organizing my bookshelves: How I do it (YMMV—no hate)

Tor Conan, ERB, CAS, Moorcock... and more.
It’s time to weigh in on a topic so contentious, so divided, so fraught with the potential for incendiary and orgiastic violence, that to even conceive a post on it risks burning the entire internet to the ground.

I’m talking about how to organize your bookshelves.

I know, take a breath. Let’s review. 

We have options.

Alphabetical by author, or title. By genre. Year of publication. 

Do you put your favorite books on a shelf nearest to hand? Your rares and antiques behind glass or in some other high, unassailable place? 

What do you put on your shelves (besides books, of course)? For example, comic books? Role-playing game books? What are your thoughts on knick-knacks or action figures, to break things up?

The possibilities are endless. 

Despite my considerable misgivings I’ll tell you how I do it, and then you tell me yours. But no outrage. We can be civil about this.


Ahh, love that Nasmith-illustrated Silmarillion.
This holiday I got myself a bookcase—six feet high, 37 inches wide, five shelves. It is my fifth bookcase, and possibly my last. At least that’s what I told my wife. She doesn’t read this blog, BTW.

The purchase gave me the opportunity to reorganize my books, an activity I find immensely relaxing and gratifying. I go into a state of flow as I do this, or perhaps active catatonia. It’s like a simultaneous mental game of Jenga (where can I fit all my Edgar Rice Burroughs books together) while remembering there are so many books I need to read, or re-read. Plus I’m reminded how glad I am to have a Ted Nasmith-illustrated copy of The Silmarillion. I need to stop now and admire The Kinslaying at Alqualondë.

It's a lot of fun. I recommend it, if you haven’t done it in a while.

Here’s how I do it.

By genre, subcategorized by author.

Part of my S&S bookcase... lots of REH, KEW, Anderson.
I have my sword-and-sorcery on one seven-shelf bookcase by itself, spilling on to a second. 

I’ve got almost two complete shelves of Tolkien. One is on my lone upstairs bookcase, alongside my more literary collection of books.

I’ve got about two complete shelves of horror.  A World War II shelf. A shelf of biographies and non-fiction. One of mostly sword-and-planet. You get the point.

Within those genres I then subcategorize, by author. So on my sword-and-sorcery shelf I’ve got about two shelves of Robert E. Howard. In general fantasy, I group all my C.S. Lewis together, next to a group of Ursula Le Guin and E.R. Eddison.

There are caveats. Many of them.

I’m forced to break my rule when the books are too large to fit on a shelf. Conan the Phenomenon by Paul Sammon resides on an unrelated shelf because it’s oversized, and won’t fit next to my other Conan books which are mostly pocket sized paperbacks. Damnit!

The horror! Is that a figurine in there?
Sometimes I break my genre rule for the sake of author solidarity. For example I’m not going to put Stephen King’s Eyes of the Dragon on the fantasy shelf. It goes on the horror shelf, next to the rest of my King books. Even though it is fantasy I can’t bear to have one Stephen King book in another random place.

Sometimes I do break the author rule, for my own utterly singular purposes. I stuck the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy apart from my other Lewis because I didn’t want to surrender that much shelf space to titles I’m not sure I will ever read again.

I do have a shelf of classic RPGs, and with the purchase of the new bookshelf I now have a comic box of Savage Sword of Conan on that. I am thinking about digging back into these after some time in storage and wanted them close at hand.

Yes, I am aware that these are not technically “books” so I may be committing sacrilege.

Is there a better way to do all this? Almost certainly yes. It’s weird and contradictory. But it works for me. My friends are always impressed by how I can lay my hand on a given title almost immediately, without thinking.

How do you shelf your books? Do you wish to inflict harm on me for my idiosyncratic choices? Leave a comment below.

More books...

Friday, January 12, 2024

Going Viking at DMR Books

No, not looting and plundering Dave Ritzlin's book hoard, but do have a new post up on his blog: A Deep Cut of Adventure: The Saga of Swain the Viking, Vol. 1: Swain’s Vengeance

This was a fun read with a lot of viking goodness and other badassery. While writing the review I took a worthwhile detour into the history of Adventure, the magazine in which the Swain stories first appeared back in the 1920s. Some interesting history to that long-running pulp. I recommend checking out the article linked at the bottom.


Friday, January 5, 2024

The Truth of the Matter of Britain

Something about January has been bringing me back to King Arthur.

Maybe it's the promise of renewal, of a hopeful dawn on a new golden age--if only we have the courage and convictions to make it happen. 

Like Arthur did.

Last year it was The Big Excalibur post at DMR Books, a review of the wondrous 1981 film. This year it's The Truth of the Matter of Britain: Some thoughts upon re-reading Bernard Cornwell's Warlord trilogy. Also up on the blog of DMR Books, for which I'm participating in the annual Deuce Richardson spearheaded "January Bloggerama."

I last read the Warlord trilogy in 2008, and did a brief review here. I was due for a re-read, and was reminded again how wonderful The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur are. Easily one of my favorite treatments of the myth, right up there with The Once and Future King, Excalibur (the film), and the Pendragon RPG.

This post was inspired by both the re-reading and an off-hand comment in a forum I frequent that "Arthur certainly didn't exist." I disagree. And add two additional thoughts: 1) I acknowledge the highly contentious nature of this topic, and that many scholars far more informed than I claim that Arthur was only a myth, and 2) It really doesn't matter all that much, either way. Because there are great Truths in the story, and these Truths, more than any archeological evidence, are why the stories persist, and matter, and continue to have relevance today.