Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta, &al., collects the first issues in an interesting new story in just as dark and depressing a world as Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and the show. It’s an interesting take on possession horror, but here’s the thing: I’ve gotten tired of the depressing and awful trudge through mud that is The Walking Dead, and that’s not even mentioning the unappealing-to-me descent fully into torture porn, so the promise of another whole series just as persistently relentlessly repetitively rotten and dark just doesn’t do it for me. Beyond the gore in this one, given the way exorcism horror goes, more torture porn is sure to come as well. It’s not bad. It’s actually good at what it does. I just have trouble finding a way to want to go further in either story. But, if you’ve got the wanderlust for more dark travels without respite, this would no doubt appeal. For myself, I enjoyed it for a while, and again here, but I’ve moved on.
I was looking for books set in the weird west, for reasons, and ended up being reminded that Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R Lansdale was a book before it was a movie. So, I got sidetracked by this one, which is a kind of hillbilly gumbo of conspiracy theory supernatural horror humor. As a bonus, there’s even “West Texas” hieroglyphics. Turns out there’s also a sequel, which is probably just as ridiculous … ly awesome as this one. Guilty pleasure, to be sure, but who isn’t seduced by the spectral comfort of butter fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches like this, especially in our declining years as we try to remember which famous person we once were while battling the forces of evil?
I made 25 highlights.
The Dulwich Horror by Oliver Harris is an entry into the corpus of Cosmicism, but not really Lovecraftian. It’s not set in New England, but rather in London, England proper. It doesn’t feature the Elder Gods, but rather an interesting twist on the Old Norse Gods. The protagonist’s name is Ursula, and that’s a bit too on the nose; and I just couldn’t get Disney out of my mind each time I read her name; but, on the whole there’s a good story with interesting ideas, with a real-feeling setting, and compelling familiar flavours of horror in an interesting new mixture. The story is from the viewpoint of a female protagonist who has a bit of a family secret, and so this also, it seems to me, overcomes some of the sexist and racist othering legacy of the Lovecraftian corpus, and thus I feel this is another welcome addition to the ranks of new Cosmicism.
I did get this book because Oliver Harris is the author of “Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia and Materialist Horror“, in the Cyclonopedia Studies section of Hermetic Library. Harris should not be confused with the crime writer of the same name, but consider checking out that essay and this story.
I made 6 highlights.
It’s definitely the same literary voice I recall, though from translations by the same translator, so … who’s voice is it luring me in? Ironically, the title story is only the first 1/3rd of this volume. The remaining 2/3rds is taken up by two previews for other Lindqvist books. So … this story is something of an anglerfish trying to tempt you in with promises for more of what you want.
The story itself is a twist on what seems at first to be a simple tale of a paparazzi waiting to capture the perfect picture to sell, but is taken down by a tickle being given to his deep desires.
I made 3 highlights.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is the first story where the character Hannibal Lector appears, and is the launching point for a series of books, movies and television, not the least of which are Jonathan Demme’s revelation that interior menace was far creepier and disturbing than the externally gross on screen with Silence of the Lambs and the tour de force apotheosis of everything Bryan Fuller that is Hannibal. I could say so much about those two reifications, but will try to focus on the book in particular, though they must be included in passing by reference.
After so many years, this was the first Thomas Harris book I read, and I must admit I finally put it on my to read stack because of Fuller’s television series. But I was surprised by how many esoteric references there were, and some of that comes out strongly in Fuller’s series. To be sure there’s the obvious William Blake connection with the Great Red Dragon image, but there’s so much about becoming and will and good and evil and nature and choice and the interaction and intertwining and internecination and integration of all these selves and shadows here to contemplate and with which to make pacts.
There’s plenty in this fiction to entertain and worth recommendation, but even moreso for those with esoteric interests who will find an even heartier eucharist.
I made 144 highlights.
The Yanthus Prime Job by Robert Kroese is a novella featuring Pepper Melange from the Rex Nihilo / Starship Grifters series. This is by far the best story out of any of the Starship Grifters books, though available separately it is also included in Aye, Robot, book 2 of the series.
There is not a single bit of Rex Nihilo in this short to annoy, and where Nihilo is an annoying doofus, perhaps like Bill the Galactic Hero but more like that douche Zapp Brannigan, Pepper Melange is smart and capable and funny and perhaps merely a few words of Esperanto away from being as cool as Slippery Jim diGriz, who you may know as The Stainless Steel Rat, with a little bit of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow for good measure.
I really liked this story and the main character in this story. Pepper Melange seems to me to suffer a bit of a personality change and is short changed by being a supporting character in her appearances in the other stories, but here there is just her and her complicated caper plotting savvy and snappy shenanigans that go awry to enjoy.
I’d love to read more stories with Pepper Melange as the main character, but this makes a nice complete story by itself, which I’ll have to be satisfied with. If I hadn’t read this story, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the other books in the Rex Nihilo series, but I did and I did. To be honest, I’d be more excited about the others remaining in my to read stack if I knew they featured Pepper Melange instead of Nihilo.
I made 5 highlights.
Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield, is weird. But, like, good weird. Like, you should read it weird.
Although this is the first book by Pelevin I’ve read, I’ve had The Helmet of Horror, also translated by Bromfield, part of the Canongate Myths series, on my to-read stack for ages, and I’ve ended up with some other works in my stack beyond those. But this was the first I’ve gotten to read.
For me there is here no small remembrance of the fatalistic loss and distance from My Life As A Dog, which was an oddly influential movie to my feeling in my youth. Moreover, I ended up guessing ahead of the reveal, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
There’s some strange kerning on the cover image for this edition that makes the title seem like “Om on Ra” which may tickle a few specific occult antennae out there. But, there’s also the cosmonaut on the cover with the falcon head of Ra, which is a codename chosen by the main character, based on his childhood dreams. Ultimately, there’s a little bit of tie-in with Egyptian myth, but it isn’t quite so integral as it might seem from first glance. One might try to say this is a retelling of Ra’s journey in the underworld, but that seems like a stretch.
There’s discussion of the soul in bodies which is reflected in the story of cosmonauts in their vehicles, and there’s a strange inversion where Gurdjieff, whom I understand was a critic of the Soviet and Marxist systems, is a Party hero who criticized the “bourgeois” belief that “organic life on earth serves merely as nourishment for the moon”, which I gather was actually something Gurdjieff talked about himself. This inversion links to something mentioned about time looping, as an hourglass, where everything lives in reverse when the glass is turned. So, for me, it seems the events here may all occur in that alternate flipped timeline.
I’m not sure this is actually a profound story, but it sure has elements that sound profound and had me thinking about life, self, time, souls, earth as a clockwork, the nature of heroism, and fate. But at least it is a novel about the human condition and yearning, that, in summary, is largely about bittersweet and uncertain survival against the demands of organizational and systemic absurdity.
I made 41 highlights.
Straw Boss by J R Evans is a novella tie-in with Straw Boss: A World of Adventure for Fate Core. A lot of times that might seem like a warning sign, as game tie-ins aren’t always so great; but this one is not only perfectly good as a stand alone without any need to know about the game, but also a well done spoopy October read in and of itself. The only thing that I didn’t get from the novella was what the title references, but the narrative quickly builds its world and premise, and explores it well, and the creepiness creeps up on you to an end that I didn’t see coming. There’s new bits of the world revealed all along the way, in a story with flashbacks, that feels very well supported and developed.
The story explores one character’s experience at a particular cult compound in the rural United States, as well as, episodically, a road trip to return a kidnapped child to her mother. But, as one says, things are not as they seem. The framing premise is that there’s a cult of Scholars, founded by John Dee, that exists around the world; and that they adopt orphans whom they train to become possessed supernatural warriors. If you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural and the idea of the Men of Letters, this cult is kinda like that, but maybe with a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Watchers and The Following mixed in. Basically, you get to conquer your demons and put them to work for you in the game while on the frontlines between dark and light in a mix of mundane reality, myth, and magic.
At one point, I was amused to see that Murmur seems to get a few cameos in places for some reason. Murmur’s seal showed up on the TV show Sleepy Hollow, back in 2013, on S01e08, as an “Egyptian hieroglyph”, which I found risible, and was pretty much the point when I gave up on that show. Then in 2016, Murmur showed up in Erwin and the Method Demons. So, as an aside, what I’m saying is that Murmur cameos are a thing. Case in point.
The Straw Boss novella does a solid, standalone job of telling an interesting story that would make a good read for October, or another time. Whenever. Murmur murmur murmur. Also, check out the game world supplement!
I made 3 highlights.
Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams is an amazement. I was taken by the curiosity of the Endymion Press cover of this book having a unicursal hexagram. So, I think I picked this up without really knowing much about it other than the oddity of its appearance. But, in the end, this was fantastic to finally find.
This is quite a wonderful, convoluted, interesting story! There’s moments that seem to presage the style of the Beats, and a grand theory of a kind of Christian magic detailed here; but it’s an intensely written episodic twisty tale mostly drawn with magical realism, but that reaches some great creepy and supernatural heights.
I didn’t feel that this supposedly “Christian” book was particularly so. At least it didn’t put me off at all, so it was not preachy but rather well woven in. And the particular magical theory of exchange and substitution described is quite interesting to see developed, and something to consider for one’s own personal experiments. I’m curious to learn more about Williams’ Companions of the Coinherence, and if there’s much to be found on that topic.
I was on a Gothic binge for a while, and this is a great bridge from there to here. The writing is luscious and thick, but there’s a newness to the pacing and the style. There’s as much inbetween-ness to the action as the novel itself, for me.
Reading this wasn’t, I’d say, easy, but I felt it was well worth the effort to get far enough in that I was drawn to finish. I’m wildly impressed with this book enough that I’m very interested in what others by Charles Williams might be like.
I must admit that I was not really aware that Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, along with J R R Tolkien, whose writing I’ve adored, and C S Lewis, whose work I cannot seem to enjoy. Because I couldn’t ever get into C S Lewis, I think I pretty much gave up on exploring the work of Inklings other than Tolkien. I regret not ever having read anything by Williams until now.
I also didn’t recall knowing Charles Williams was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you don’t know already, for those into esoteric traditions, you will find out that Charles Williams is one of us, part of our cultural inheritance, and someone whose work is worth getting to know.
This story is an experience worth having. I highly recommend it.
I made 149 highlights.
I wanted to like Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and had high hopes, nay, even the expectation, that I’d like this book. But, Thoreau comes across as an ignorant Uncle Joe Bubba who rants about the gubmint being evil ‘cuz it tells folk what to do and gets in their way, but who lives willfully rejecting its benefits and being a cantankerous selfish scofflaw.
To his credit there’s an arc here where, apparently while writing much of this from a jail cell for, I gather, tax evasion, maybe as a noble abolitionist protest, but maybe not, he realizes, from looking out his cell window at the unfamiliar sights and later walking around in town, that organized collective governance is actually useful and an important part of successful civilization. Well, at least he seems to have come around, but not without being a jerk for too long.
But I don’t really think or feel I got a good or proper discussion of any thoughtful use of civil disobedience from Thoreau in this at all. It’s historically interesting though, and I suppose that’s something. Good to have read it finally, either way.
I made 76 highlights.
Glitch by Hugh Howey is a far too brief vignette to be good, but isn’t bad. It’s an okay short about a robot gladiator who becomes sentient which causes a moral dilemma and struggle for control. It’s like an excerpt from, or a pitch for, a larger story, but after the end I didn’t really need anything more from it. I’m not sure there was much there that hasn’t been told before more fully and quite well in other similar stories, such as classics like Thomas J Ryan’s The Adolescence of P-1 as just one example.
I made 5 highlights.
KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by J M R Higgs isn’t hardcore history and reads a bit like a magazine article in tone and tempo, but it’s got a lot of history I didn’t know about, both directly and tangentially related to KLF, especially around Discordianism, that I found very interesting, and it was a timely read for the resurfacing of the group this year.
I made 258 highlights.
The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, Ron Lim, and George Pérez is pretty understandably epic in scale. I don’t know how the upcoming Avengers movie can get to this story without more setup than we’ve seen so far. But, who knows? I’ve heard rumours that they might not start with this story right away, which means I started in the wrong place. Oops.
It really seems like a huge story arc designed to launch Adam Warlock into an eternal hall of fame at the expense of the entire Marvel universe. Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock. Jim Starlin the writer of this story. Nothing suspicious here at all, nope.
The cosmic elements are the best. There’s panels with Doctor Strange, Adam Warlock, Celestials and Eternals that knock it out of the park with delicious cosmic visuals. There’s some mind bending bit here to love.
There’s also a cameo of a Trump property getting natural disastered that gave me mean chuckle.
But really, it’s Doctor Strange who gets some of the best visuals.
The framing story is that Thanos is desperate for Lady Death’s love. It’s kind of pathetic, and perhaps a funny commentary on desperate but unrequited nerd ideas of “love”. The framing story seems stuck on repeat for most of the series, until the story catches up to where Thanos is at; then the story gets stuck on repeat as the writing plays the same sequence of heroes trying to defeat Thanos while Silver Surfer or someone doubts Adam Warlock over and over for a while.
But there’s some great “who’s it” with the Infinity Gauntlet including a couple steals and a fumble to liven things up.
As stuck as it may seem repeating in places within this collected volume, it isn’t anything I’ve read before elsewhere. It’s new, but repeats within itself a bit, is what I’m saying. But, it’s good, and, where it does internally new stuff, it does it really well. There’s tons of visuals and moments that struck me, and which I hope to see on the big screen eventually as a bonus.
In the end everyone returns to where they were, except Thanos and Adam Warlock, who both, sort of, escape the cycle of statis, ironically by getting stuck in a different, or maybe the same, from a certain point of view, cycle of stasis.
I’m certainly curious about the rest of the Infinity Gem Saga, but that’s a lot of material. I hope it stays fresh across the whole sequence of 6 collections. It’s a bit daunting and I feel like I got a good complete story in this collection alone, so I’m not super hype about the rest, to be honest. In that sense, this volume is a nice complete thing in itself without feeling left tricked into needing to read anything else.
Botchan by Soseki Natsume, translated by J Cohn, is something I’d been meaning to read for, well, a couple of decades now. I’ve had a physical copy longer than I can recall when I got it, perhaps a gift from my Grandmother. I’ve tried getting into it a number of times, but just couldn’t. I finally did.
The most serious attempt at this book was in the 90s when I was taking Japanese 101 at Seattle Central Community College. I had a Japanese friend outside of class that was shocked to see I had the book with me, and that I was reading it, because it was such a deep and specific cultural phenomenon. I ended up saying it was a bit boring, and I didn’t really think much of it. I didn’t finish it. In fact, now that I’ve read it, I don’t think I got very far into it at all, that time.
I still don’t like it. It’s a story about a bunch of awful people being awful and nothing good comes of any of it. The main character is infantile, rash, and gullible. Everyone else is also deeply flawed. They stay that way.
There’s an awful lot of what appears to me homophobic but gratuitous preoccupation with criticizing how feminine other males are. Ironically there’s a scene where the main character is totally mesmerised by the flexing, bulging muscles of a compatriot.
There’s also few female characters at all, with three that appear for any meaningful amount of the story. The first is Botchan’s nanny, who constantly lavishes praise and care on him with an irrational, one might say economically dependant and sycophantic, way that fails to be recognized as such. There’s a beautiful woman who is fickle and the object of a conspiracy who is mostly seen from a distance, when seen at all. There is an old landlady who always cooks sweet potatoes for dinner and is, as it turns out, a useful gossip. There’s others mentioned in passing, but this is really to extent of it.
And, pretty much everyone is miserable or awful to each other, and usually both, including the narrator. It is strange, in a way, to think about how this story is, as described in the front matter, as probably being pretty biographical, because the narrator seems to be to be an ass. The front matter seems to describe the main character as a kind of heroic rebel, but no. Not close. He’s constantly getting tricked. He constantly jumps to conclusions based on hearsay from people he doesn’t trust. And so on.
And, there’s not really any character arc for anyone in the story. In fact, in the end, not much changes. The same awful people just, probably, keep on being awful. That’s the worst part, I guess. I somewhat identify with the situation of being surrounded by people that I can’t really trust, who are up to something; and if I say anything about what they’re doing they just say I started it and I look bad but they’re the assholes. That whole bit of bullshit is too familiar. This story doesn’t resolve that for the characters and doesn’t offer any insight into a way out; except to take some petty revenge then pack up and leave. Maybe that is the only answer then, as it’s kind of what I’ve ended up doing in similar situations.
I just don’t see how this is a “treasured novel” with “timeless popularity” or “a hilarious tale about a young man’s rebellion against ‘the system'”. Maybe I really missed it without the deep and specific cultural or period context. But, unless someone can enlighten me to what’s there but not there, it’s a miss for me. There’s no treasure here. I felt the ploding passage of my time while reading it. It’s painfully not funny at all. He’s not a rebel against any system, just largely oblivious and angry to no ultimate effect. It’s a bleak and boring pastoral about unending pervasive and dismal angst not worth remembering.
Still, it’s well written. It’s an experience of a moment in time in another culture that made me think about life. I’m not glad I read it, but I’m glad I’m done with it.
I made 14 highlights.
The Copper Cascade: A Virulent ChapBook by Kneel Downe, foreword by Steve Taylor-Bryant, is the “first in a series of Virulent ChapBooks which introduces readers to the characters and concepts of Kneel’s universe”. Apparently there’s a giant and complex VirulentBlurb corpus from which this collects a coherent short selection of extracts, but it stands well enough on its own. The constructed story itself reads to me as as a kind of alternate X-Men tale, of superheroes and villains, mainly from the point of view of the Magneto-like character Dark Deliverance, and interviews by the detective Kurt Lobo. I’m not super interested in diving into the deep water of the entire corpus, but this was interesting and complete in itself. So it could serve as the first step down the rabbit hole, or be a quick satisfying read. For me, it’s going to be the latter.
I made 8 highlights.
The Goat: Building The Perfect Victim by Bill Kieffer was something I picked up because it appeared on the Hermetic Library ad spaces through Project Wonderful, and had a pretty compelling illustration with interestingly bizarre description. Turns out it really was quite interestingly bizarre. The erotica part wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was a good story of strangeness in a world of magic, where the magic part is a part of the story but is more ambient than a character. The erotica is there, but it’s not really the main thing either. I suppose I’d say the story seems largely an exploration of dysphoria in a real but also allegorical way as it might present in a world full of magic. Still, the magic doesn’t show up right away, almost comes as a surprise at first, and builds throughout until the final twist. The world, the magic and the story all seemed well developed and believable (and I remember thinking … this is like Shadowrun, but in the rust belt). The final twist made me leap back to the cover to see if there was a clue I missed, and I’m not sure; maybe it’s there but maybe not. There’s probably some trigger warnings for abuse needed, but it is billed as twisted and subversive, and that it is, so there you go. Well, it’s a creative story in an interesting world, even if you’re not there for the homo-erotic S&M; and if you are, then, there’s something extra for you.
I made 5 highlights.
Parallel Lives by Parker Gordon is a wibbly-wobbly astral time-travelling puzzle-solving caper. There were points where I thought the narrative got a little unclear, a couple times it seemed the narrative was treading the same bit again without reason to do so, and maybe a couple things didn’t feel like they got resolved in the end. Maybe it could have been done in half the number of page, but I don’t regret getting through them. Overall it was an engaging and interesting story of strange big society-level and believable small interpersonal-level battles engaged across time.
I made 53 highlights.
The Librarian: Little Boy Lost by Eric Hobbs is a neat framing pastiche which sets up a premise where the Astoria Public Library (in nearby-ish to me Astoria, Oregon!) is magically connected to famous public domain fantasy worlds from other books, like Neverland, Wonderland, Oz. I couldn’t help but be interested in a story with a magical library. Definitely targeted at a younger audience, but it was still interesting enough as, mentioned already, a pastiche and a bit formulaic in places. I’m not likely to read the next installment, but it was good for a lark, and I’m sure it would be more fun for someone more in the directly intended audience.
There was one interesting thought I had while reading this that I’m not entirely sure was intended, but one of the themes is how the characters in the famous stories are trapped by the writing to repeat the same thing over and over forever. “It was the curse of living a life controlled by words on a page” was something I highlighted. They are trapped by the words in their books. This seemed an interesting allegory for me about people who let themselves be trapped in their lives by books, whether for escape or as sacred volumes. The thought I got from this was that people curse themselves by such things, and don’t let themselves live their own creative lives. To be sure, there’s a creative cosplay and fanfic way to engage with personally meaningful books, but there’s also a way to become small and narrow and diminished. The former seems fun and fine for everyone. The latter seems a true curse to not only themselves but the rest of us as well.
I made 6 highlights.