Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: Gillian's Marsh by Michael Faun

While running from her abusive father, Louella Lee Wishum is rescued by the woodsman Red Swanson, who takes her in. Meanwhile, back in Louella Lee's hometown of Gillianswick, the sergeant constable Cyrus Reiterman suspects that witchcraft is behind the disappearance of several men in the town.
Louella Lee drops the bucket of water and falls down her knees. She whimpers as the cold brook water gushes out over the path and the transparent tendrils soak her dress. Her stomach hurts so much she wants to take a knife and cut out her uterus.
It would be easy to compare Gillian's Marsh to the works of authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Edward Lee, and Brian Keene. All of them are obvious influences. Despite that, Faun very much feels like he's doing his own thing in terms of writing supernatural horror. Images of Satanism and witchcraft run throughout the story, but it never feels derivative.

Faun's writing conjures up some vivid and often very unpleasant images in the way a horror story like this should. He never piles it on too thick, so the grotesque parts never feel ridiculous or gratuitous. They have just the right amount of punch to them.
By the time they reached the Blood Oak, the man's whining had stopped. Red's knuckles had proven a perfect cure to ridden the missionary of his useless words and prayers.
The ancient tree looked famished. Her boils were sagging, drained of the precious milk she needed to live. Even her scarlet bark was flaking. She looked altogether haggard and Red felt a twinge of sadness in his heart. 
The plot moves along at a good clip and keeps you turning the page. Even the diversions to dreams and journal entries don't slow things down. Faun has tight control on the story. Given it's a short work, it's easy to finish within a couple hours.

Overall, Gillian's Marsh is just really fun to read. It's an entertaining work by a very skilled author with a deep love for the horror genre. If you enjoy horror, this novella is well worth reading.

Buy Gillian's Marsh by Michael Faun here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Brief Thoughts 13

TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism by Hakim Bey

Reading Woodcock's history of Anarchism got me interested in reading more on the subject. My library actually doesn't have much on the subject. Strangely, of the very few things they did have, this off-kilter little volume was one of them. I recognized Hakim Bey from his contribution to Apocalypse Culture and figured this would be worth a read. 

The titular essay discusses the concept of creating temporary zones that are out of reach of formal social regulations. One example he gives are enclaves that pirates established on uncharted islands for short periods of time. He explicitly opposes seeing the TAZ as a means to an end of an anarchist revolution, believing the desire to do such would defeat the entire purpose. He also speculates that the Internet may be a breeding grounds for TAZs, though as he notes in the preface to this edition, the essay was written when the Internet was a very new thing and this part is very out of date. 

The rest of the book are reprints of communiques/broadsides dealing with various subjects such anarchism, mysticism, pornography, art and philosophy. Some of these essay are written in a style that make them read like complete word salads. For example, I have no idea if the "Hollow Earth" essay was making a point, or was just a weird vignette. For the most part, Bey is a pretty solid writer, but there are times like this where his excesses make him unreadable. 

Besides the titular essay, most of this book isn't really to be taken seriously, and I don't think Bey intended it to be. For example, there are parts in the book where he advocates putting curses on institutes that harm society, but given he lists things like the MUZAK corporation as targets, I think it's safe to say he has his tongue in his cheek. I certainly hope so, he can't actually think taking a shit on the floor of a bank during the busy hours is going to accomplish anything.

Overall, this is an interesting book but it's not essential reading. On the topic of anarchism, you'll need a good amount of knowledge going in to get where the book is coming from on that front. Likewise, there are probably better places to go for the subjects of Tantra or art criticism. Still, it's an nicely unusual read. If you have an interest in the kind of fringe thought the Discordians and the Church of the SubGenius put out, this is worth getting. 

Buy TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism by Hakim Bey here.

The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy 

After I was forced to abandon War and Peace, I decided to give this a try. Given how dense War and Peace was in some parts, I expected this to be the same. Not so, this book is very readable and not at all difficult to understand. 

The Kingdom of God is Within You is Tolstoy's treatise on Christianity, pacifism, and the nature of government. This is the book that basically started the Christian anarchist movement and was also a huge influence on Mahatma Gandhi. 

Tolstoy's thesis is that the Sermon on the Mount calls for pacifism, or, as he calls it, nonresistance to evil by force. He concludes that the established Churches have perverted Christ's teachings for their own ends and that no Christian can support the existence of the state, which is required to use violence to exist.  

Tolstoy's pacifism didn't make him a pushover. He attacks church and state with passion and clarity. There are no punches pulled for his targets like the Russian Orthodox Church or Kaiser Wilhelm. That's what makes this book such a pleasure. It's like reading a sermon from an intense minister. 

Even if you're not a Christian or an anarchist, this is an essential book if only for its influence as a philosophical work.

Buy The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New Review at Cultured Vultures + An Announcement

My review of M Kitchell's collection of experimental writing, Spiritual Instrument, is up at Cultured Vultures.

Check it out here. 

I have also been asked to be a regular contributor to the site, which I have accepted. As a result, most of my reviews will be going there if there, if not Adventures in SciFi Publishing.

I won't be abandoning this blog, of course. I'll still be putting my "Brief Thoughts" series here and be using it for announcements related to my writing. Any reviews that don't seem to fit elsewhere will go here as well.

Keep an eye out both at CV and AISFP, I have plenty of reviews coming down the pipe both places. I'll also have another announcement coming within the next couple weeks. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Brief Thoughts 12

Never Die Alone by Donald Goines

A black drug dealer named King David is attacked in the street by people he had previously fucked over. He's discovered by a Jewish writer named Paul who rushes him to the hospital where he dies. Grateful for his kindness, King David leaves Paul everything he owns, including a diary detailing his rise from small to big time dealing. Meanwhile, Mike, King David's killer, is dealing with the fallout his revenge is having.

This is one of Goines' better known novels because of the movie starring DMX from 2004. It's an enjoyable crime thriller. Paul's glance into King David's diary is an excellent analysis of the psyche of a greedy dope peddler, and Mike's story line is full of action and suspense.

It's a flawed book, however. The two story lines don't really come together and both end a little too abruptly. The worst part is that there are one or two glaring continuity errors. Ones that could have easily been fixed by changing a couple words. The editor was clearly asleep at the wheel here.

Despite that, it's still a book worth picking up for a quick read.

Buy Never Die Alone by Donald Goines here. 

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver 

Eldridge Cleaver is a figure from the Civil Rights era who is nowhere near as well remembered as people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. It's easy to see why. In this very book, the man admits to being a rapist, and after the the 70s he became a conservative Mormon who stumped for the Republican party. Even Ishmael Reed's preface in this book is less than flattering. At one point Cleaver lead a group called "Guardians of the Sperm." It's easy to dismiss him as a crank.

The essays in Soul on Ice were written while he was in prison and deal with the subject of prison life, black liberation, the place of black men in popular culture, and sexuality in the context of American race relations. Many of the the essays on prison were originally letters to his lawyer. He was apparently in love with her and these letters come across somewhat as gushy and cloying.

The essays on sexuality divide black people and white people into four categories. Black women's femininity is compromised by servitude while a white women is overdosed on it. Black men are hypermasculine while power makes white men feminized. These essays lack the verisimilitude of his more personal ones and at times feel like mental masturbation.

Another infamous section in this book, besides admitting to having committed rapes, is his criticism of James Baldwin. While Cleaver praises Baldwin's writing, he condemns Baldwin himself as an Uncle Tom. He attributes this to the fact Baldwin was gay and compares homosexuality to raping babies and "wanting to become the head of General Motors." Moments like this are why history hasn't been kind to Cleaver. Still, this part was so blatant and mean-spirited I couldn't help but get a laugh out of it.

While I've been nothing but critical, I honestly loved this book. I couldn't put it down. Cleaver's writing has an absorbing energy that grips you and demands you hear him out to the end. Whatever flaws he had, his talent as a writer is undeniable.

As Reed notes in the preface, Cleaver was ultimately a doubter above all. His doubt lead him to some unusual places, but it allowed him to dissect race in America from a perspective few others could. He's a great example of why we always need people who reflexively distrust what they're taught. 

Maybe Eldridge Cleaver was a crank, but if he was, he was an interesting crank and one that deserves to be read. If nothing else, to get into glimpse into what a turbulent time the Civil Rights era really was.

Buy Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brief Thoughts 11

Anarchism by George Woodcock

I had a some bad luck with books the past couple months. I checked War and Peace out from my library and got halfway through it before it was due back. I couldn't renew it because someone had placed a hold on it, so I had to return it. Then right before that, I tried reading a copy of this book I had bought used a couple years ago. It turns out that version was a misprint that was missing the majority of the second half. There's 50 cents that's never coming back. I had to buy a new edition to finish it. Which wasn't an entirely bad thing since the newer edition had some updated information.

The first half is an engaging history of the roots of anarchist ideas. It covers most of the major thinkers like Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, etc, and provides a good summary of their lives and ideas. The chapter on Stirner is a bit lacking. It's clear that Woodcock was not a fan, and he doesn't analyze his ideas much. Still, he acknowledges Stirner's influence on anarchist thought in a pretty accurate manner. The section on Tolstoy also came from a more literary based perspective than from a political one. 

The second half deals with the history of anarchist movements from all over the world. I found this part to be a dryer read. That's probably my own bias. I tend to be more interested in individuals than mass movements. That said, this section had some good information on where the "classical" anarchist movements started and ended in many parts around the world. It mostly focuses on continental Europe, but the sections on Latin and North America are well done. There were also a few affecting moments here. The optimism that the success (however limited) of the Spanish anarchists during the Civil War instills, and the tragedy of how thoroughly the Soviet Union crushed the movement in a country that produced some of its most important thinkers.

Also, funny story about this book. Bernie Sanders was in my city when I first picked this up, and he ended up coming into the cafe I started reading this in. So I read the first chapter with Sanders sitting at the table next to me talking to his campaign manager

If you're at all interested in Anarchism, this is an essential read. It gives a good rundown on it's history and various streams of thought. It's a good jumping off point as well, naming off major thinkers and works to reference if you decide to delve deeper.

Buy Anarchism by George Woodcock here. 

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard 

I've said in other places how much I love J.G. Ballard, but I actually haven't read a lot of his works. Just four novels (counting this one) and a few short stories. He's one of those authors that instantly "clicked" with me. Cocaine Nights is no exception. 

The plot of the novel is that a travel writer goes to Spain, where his brother has been locked up. He's been accused of starting a fire in a resort town that caused the death of five people. When he gets there, he finds that his brother has pleaded guilty. Convinced that something suspicious is going on, he sets out to find out who really started the fire and why. 

This book is the spiritual predecessor to Super-Cannes. They have similar plots and  both revolve around the theme of the place of crime and transgression in society. Specifically, they both put forward the idea that crime is a negative but necessary component of a healthy society. A lack of it creates complacency and breeds ennui.

Because Cocaine Nights reads more like a traditional mystery novel, many may find this to be more accessible than Super-Cannes. Despite that, I preferred Super-Cannes. It was a bit more subtle in its goals and created a better mood. I still liked this book a lot. In fact, it may be a good jumping on point for people new to Ballard. If you like mysteries and are looking to get into Ballard, this book is perfect.

Buy Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard here.