Thucydides, Again!

When someone is looking for an example he usually goes to his favorite source. So, a religious man goes to the Bible. A patriot might consult the Founding Fathers. I suppose a Hip-Hopper would quote Jay-Z. Me, I’m a classics nerd, so I go back to Athens and Rome.

Thucydides’ history is mostly very dry but there are a few passages that resonate even down to our time. Corcyra was the name of an island now known as Corfu in the Ionian Sea. When the Athenians and the Spartans were dueling for the supremacy of Fifth Century Hellas, Corcyra became a proxy in the battle between democracy and aristocracy. The two parties alternated in escalating the violence and ruthlessness when either had the upper hand. The description of the revolution in Corcyra concludes with a discussion of how partisanship became completely radicalized.

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In short, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was lacking was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations sought not the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition to overthrow them; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.”

When I first read this many years ago I immediately thought, he’s talking about propaganda. A party line to rouse the true believers. But recently I started thinking about how this relates to our world. These people were living through bloody revolution. The recent version (well, relatively) would be the French Revolution. Here two factions of countrymen devolve into fratricidal foes. By the end, all humanity is stripped away and any atrocity can be rationalized into a necessary and in fact patriotic act.

The point is once you have decided that the genie is out of the bottle it becomes a matter of existential necessity to neutralize your enemy without possibility of recovery. Because after each side gets the upper hand the level of violence is increased by an order of magnitude. At some point it is decided, by one side or both, that it’s reached the point of no return and the only recourse is annihilation. That is the nature of civil wars. Rwanda and Yugoslavia are multicultural versions and therefore even worse.

The terms Thucydides used above are surprisingly familiar. They sound a great deal like the pundits on both sides. Hell, sometimes I sound like that. The good news is we are nowhere near Corcyra’s state of affairs. But we are already working our way down the path. The first salvos have been fired. First came Occupy Wall Street, then BLM. Now we are seeing the Antifa grow into a threat. Some on the right are attempting to answer this challenge. Clashes have already cost lives. If this is allowed to escalate it will. When the government’s control of violence weakens partisans will appear to fill the vacuum. This is extraordinarily dangerous. And it is where I see the slippery slope to serious unrest. An America, where ordinary citizens feel threatened by partisan mobs, will no longer enjoy the inherent stability it has for the last hundred years.

Now some say that open strife is inevitable. I currently don’t believe that. I fear it but I am not convinced of its inevitability. I think our current problems stem from an anti-American bias adopted by large swaths of the population that displays itself in anti-white policies. I include in this category affirmative action laws, attacks on traditional cultural institutions like religion, tolerance and even encouragement of illegal immigration and the promulgation of outrageous practices such as recognizing aberrant behaviors as normal and the encouragement by schools and media of speech codes targeting traditional cultural mores and beliefs.

I believe if these practices were ended it would go a long way toward stabilizing and improving the situation in this country. That is my belief and my hope. I would far prefer to believe that, than to think we are fated to follow Corcyra’s fate. Just to finish the story, when the Corcyran democratic faction finally achieved total control, they massacred their enemies to the last man and sold the women as slaves. The only ones who survived were the ones who had fled the island and never looked back. Not such a happy ending. Let’s see if we can sidestep that.

21SEP2017 Update

So today is the last full day of summer.  Gahhh!  The horror begins soon so it’s time to have fun while we can.  Saturday I’ll have my two older grandsons over for a Lord of the Rings marathon.  I think the extended version comes to about eleven hours.  Breaking it up with grilled cheese sandwiches for them and corned beef and swiss for me, it will be a full day.  Dinner will be another fan favorite spaghetti and meat balls.  Camera Girl will do the cooking but abstain from the cinema.  She’s a Tolkien agnostic, heaven help her.

As anyone who faithfully reads my reviews knows I consider Justified the most consistently well written and actualized tv drama I’ve ever seen.  I have a theory that it’s because the source material is much better than that of the typical (or even superior) tv-show.  So, I’m putting it to the test.

Right now, I’m reading Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens novels and short stories.  I read the short story “Fire in the Hole” that was the basis for the first episode of Justified.  The other stories in the collection (of the same name) were all very good too.  Leonard has an enormous reputation as one of the most popular crime writers.  And he has had over twenty of his books made into movies (not counting the tv series Justified).  Based on all that I figure I’ll find out what all the hype is about.  So, I want to see how I like his stuff.  So far, I’m impressed.

The political scene continues to boil like the spaghetti pot I’ll be involved with on Saturday.  Trump continues to engage all important events in his typical iconic and bombastic style.  Of course, you’d have to be made of stone not to be nervous about all the various balls in the air.  But I’ve learned to give Trump some time to get things done in his own way.  After all he is herding particularly annoying cats (and rats).  The right-wing folks are going through some growing pains on the various sites.  Hopefully it’ll sort itself out sooner than later.  I take a sort of neutral position on these things and wait to see how things are settled.

On the photography front I’ve added the ability to embed photos in the comments so go ahead if something in a post inspires a photo of your own.  The plug-in that makes this possible has the following instructions:

This plugin embeds image links in comments with the img tag so the images are visible in your comment timeline.

Image formats supported:

  1. .jpg
  2. .gif
  3. .png

 

I’m not an expert on this computer stuff so I’ll do my best to get things to work but have patience if there are problems.

On the review front, I’m going to write something on my recent toe-dip into anime.  In addition to my recent viewing of Cowboy Bebop I watched Ghost in the Shell 2.0.  I’ll share my thoughts.

Other film ideas, I rented the second John Wick film and I’ll put together my thoughts on both films after watching it, maybe this weekend.

I haven’t decided what sf&f book to read next.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 3 – Conclusion

Whispers from The Abyss – Part 2

 

So, I’ll sum it all up.

Are you an H. P. Lovecraft fan?  Then for you, “Whispers from the Abyss” is a no-brainer.  It’s a cornucopia of Lovecraftian themes and inhuman doom.  You are bound to enjoy the majority of the stories and probably find some writers whose work you’ll want to check out.  And for those of you who buy books made of paper instead of electrons, I’ll say that the paperback book was a high-quality item with very nice cover art and excellent readability.

For you Lovecraft agnostics it’s a judgement call.  There is a mixture of styles and as a fellow agnostic I was happy to find a few stories that I thought were very good.  And there were a number that didn’t work for me.  And that make sense.  Without the Lovecraft bias the authors are fighting an uphill battle to get my sympathy.  And I would say there is a generational thing going on.  Any time the author includes even the smallest left-wing jibe, whether it’s an anti-religion or anti-male remark it jars me right out of the story.  So, I’m probably not the target audience for several of these stories.  So that needs to be taken into consideration if you have similar inhibitions.  But if not then you’ll probably be fine with the material in all these tales.

I’ll close by saying if you’re a horror fan and especially if you’re a Lovecraft fan I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 2

Whispers from The Abyss – Part 1

Taking up where I left off, I’ll discuss some of the longer works in the anthology.  I arbitrarily divided the works as those eight or more pages long and those shorter.  First up, “Secrets in Storage” by Tim Pratt and Greg Van Eekhout.  It’s a straightforward tale of a man who looks in a mysterious box.  The set-up is up to the minute Americana.  A man spends his whole nest egg on the contents of a storage locker.  He goes with a hunch and of course exhibits more guts than brains when he reacts to an impossible scenario by literally climbing into the paradox.  I like the ending.  It reminds me of the ending of Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  Only instead of no mirrors, no boxes or pools.  It’s a refreshing change of pace.

Next is “The Substance in the Sound” by W. B. Stickel.”  This is also a simple tale but well told and the details of the characters and the harbor environment is interesting.  The tie-in to the mythos is not the conventional one and allows some added surprise.  As a New England resident it’s always interesting when the stories return to Lovecraft’s old stomping grounds.

My favorite long story is The Jar of Aten-Hor. By Kat Rocha.  It is a story linking back to the Egyptian religious customs surrounding death.  The description of the funerary artifact around which the story revolves is very vividly described. As with some of Lovecraft’s best imagery it calls out for a visual representation.  But the description is detailed enough to bring it to the mind’s eye.  The protagonist at each turn is provided an avenue of escape and each time she believes that she is deciding her own fate but by the end of the story it is evident that she was the one being manipulated.  Although Egypt wasn’t the most frequent focus of Lovecraft’s mythic sources he did borrow from it for some of his Old Ones names.  I remember reading a description of the pyramids that Lovecraft wrote for some event of Harry Houdini’s.  It was entitled “Under the Pyramids.”  It was one of the better things Lovecraft ever wrote.  It’s nice to see a story that links Lovecraft back to a rich source of highly relevant mythic material.  The inexplicable changing images on the jar provide the link to show the change going on in the protagonist.  Her fascination with the jar grows past a professional interest until finally it becomes an obsession.  The story is well crafted and full of interesting details.  If only Lovecraft himself had been as careful with his writing.  Then I wouldn’t have to make so much fun of him.

In my final post I’ll sum up my thoughts on Whispers from the Abyss and I’ll even throw in some more abuse of Lovecraft at no extra charge.

Whispers from The Abyss – An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Stories –  Edited by Kat Rocha – A Horror Book Review – Part 1

 

Anyone with a comprehensive knowledge of this blog knows that I have a love/hate relationship with the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

Why No Love for the Craft of Howard Phillips? – Part 1- The Whisperer in the Darkness

Space Opera (High and Low)

On the one hand, some of his stories are, in my opinion, terribly written.  The action and narration are painful to read and sometimes seem like parody.  On the other hand, some of the images he presents possess the potency of an archetypal nightmare.  I feel that he had an extremely powerful imagination but for whatever reason lacked or neglected to use the writing techniques needed for good story-telling.  For this reason, I continue to circle around Lovecraft’s works.  Aggravated by the reality but fascinated by the potential.

So, I just finished the stories in this anthology.  I read them over the course of yesterday and today.  That’s twenty-eight stories inspired by the writings of Lovecraft.  By any protocol currently in place that is dangerously north of the recommended median safe dosage.  And what I found is consistent with both what I know about Lovecraft and what I know about anthologies.  Let’s look at the categories.

Case 1:  Assume you are a rabid Lovecraft fanatic.  Then by definition you’ll love this anthology.  It’s chock full of Lovecraftian bug juice.  You’re not gonna find a stronger dose of the real thing.  But even you, the grand master of the Lovecraft Day Parade will enjoy certain stories more than others.  Stands to reason.  Because even though the stories have the main attraction it’s there in different dosages and also it is flavored with the other ingredients.  Suppose you are a rabid right wing Lovecraftian and you hit upon a story that includes some feminist story elements or sentiments.  Then that would decrease your enjoyment.  Or suppose you’re a Cthulhu Mythos purist and a story contains some element that you see as heretical, say humor or some science that disagrees with your vision of the saga.  This also would be a negative.

Case 2:  You’re a Lovecraft agnostic.  You don’t hate or love him.  Then each story is taken on its merits.  And so, even more powerfully than in Case 1 your own spectrum of preferences come into play and by definition you will have a much lower average score for each story since it won’t start out on the Lovecraftian plateau.

Case 3:  You despise Lovecraft.  Well, in that case you’d have to be reading this collection out of some kind of masochistic impulse.  Because even if the story characteristics agreed with your other requirements for good fiction, the Lovecraftian elements would be a constant irritant.  Chances are a much smaller subset would be acceptable.  These would be stories that have all the other personal qualifications going for them to offset the anti-Lovecraft bias.

As previously stated, I fall into the second category.  The story will work or not based on how well the elements resonate with my tastes.  And since I’m an old geezer brought up in the paleolithic era I respond well to regressive, patriarchal, hetero-cis-normative, Europhilic, western pro-American themes extremely well.  All other influences lower the enjoyment quotient to some degree.  By definition, anything written after 1957 is going to suffer from a certain deviation from this baseline point of view.  End of truth in advertising disclaimer.

So let’s get started.  The story that best represents the nightmare quality that I think is the most powerful part of the Lovecraft experience is also one of the shortest pieces in the anthology.  I’ve always thought that parents’ emotional bond to their children is the strongest point of attack for horror writers.  In his story “When We Change,” Mason Ian Bundschuh identifies what can be truly horrific about humans being forced into a meat grinder.  Forcing people to make unthinkable choices is the very essence of tragedy and horror.

Interestingly, another of my favorites is a parody, a Lovecraftian farce.  James Brogden’s “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” was very good.  It falls into the British tradition of Wodehouse, Fawlty Towers, The Office and anything else that juxtaposes the English desire for propriety and normalcy against the actual absurdity of real life. I definitely was smiling during my read of this story.  It aligns very nicely with my own sense of humor.

In the next installment of this article I’ll give my ideas on some of the larger stories.

A Rambling Wreck – Book 2 of The Hidden Truth Series – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hans G. Schantz is the author of the “The Hidden Truth” series and based on the bio at the end of the book some sort of a genius.  He’s a PhD in theoretical physics and a high-tech inventor of radio frequency gadgets (e.g., near field electromagnetic ranging).   Suffice it to say he doesn’t need to use a macguffin in any of his stories to fake a scientific plot line.  So, it’s kind of ironic that the first chapter is named “Whatever Happened to Angus MacGuffin.”

I picked up this second volume of the series without having read the first because the premise caught my fancy.  The protagonist, Peter is a college freshman at Georgia Tech who is digging up information on a shadowy organization called the Civic Circle which seems like some kind of combination of the Illuminati and villains from a Bond movie.  They murdered his parents for getting in the way of an operation being carried out to hide the Civic Circle’s involvement in an assassination campaign.  This campaign was meant to prevent the leading minds in electromagnetic field theory from discovering a secret that would give its wielder enormous power.

Now imagine that plot line embedded in a story that includes a freshman pick-up artist, social justice warriors on campus, a Chinese demigod, a 17th century nuclear energy program and a freshman trying to keep his grade point average high enough to keep his scholarship money intact.

It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.

The book combines an elaborate puzzle involving an ancient Chinese philosophical text that seems also to be a clue to the secret knowledge that the Civic Circle is protecting.  There’s a rationale involving historical figures from the early days of electromagnetic field theory to explain how this secret hasn’t been discovered by the physicists of today.  There are all kinds of geeky fun throughout the plot.

One other interesting note.  This is an alternate history world where President Gore was killed in the 9-11-2001 terror attacks.  So, they must have completely missed out on the joys of climate change.

The action moves along and the various plot elements reach their crescendo in a nicely coordinated climax.  Secrets are revealed.  The damsel in distress is saved and the hero moves up the ladder of experience and prepares for his next foray against the powers of darkness.

I thought the book was good.  I should probably go back now and read the first volume (but once you cheat it’s always tough to do that).  But I look forward to next installment.  Hopefully in it Donald Trump will be given super powers and a license to kill.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 2 – The Short Stories

In the first part of this post, I’ve given a little background on how I became introduced to Ray Bradbury’s stories.  After detailing Dandelion Wine, I feel talking about his shorter works is the next order of business.  I own a collection of these called “The Stories of Ray Bradbury” which includes what Bradbury considered his best 100 short stories.  I went through these today and picked out my favorites.  I feel it’s necessary to qualify that statement.  There are more than a few of Bradbury’s best stories that have become components of the longer work Dandelion Wine.  Since I’ve already reviewed that work I’ve left these short stories out of this selection process.

Here are my selections for the best of the best in the same order as they appear in the book:

  1. The Crowd
  2. The Scythe
  3. The City
  4. There Was an Old Woman
  5. There Will Come Soft Rains
  6. The Veldt
  7. A Sound of Thunder
  8. Invisible Boy
  9. The Fog Horn
  10. Hail and Farewell
  11. The Great Wide World Over There
  12. Skeleton
  13. The Man Upstairs
  14. The Jar
  15. Touched with Fire
  16. The Town Where No One Got Off
  17. Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!
  18. The One Who Waits

Now here’s the thing.  I could easily have added double this number.  Almost all the stories are good.  But these are the ones I especially like.  So, this selection probably says more about me than it does about Bradbury’s best of the best.  But that can be said about any critic’s choices.

An interesting fact I discovered after making this list is that there are at least three stories in this list which I don’t think have any SF&F content in them whatsoever.  They are just studies in human nature.  And yet they appear on this list.  Which I take to mean that Bradbury finds people interesting and knows how to make them interesting to his readers.  Now, that may not seem remarkable, but look at the people writing at the same time as Bradbury.  Let’s take Isaac Asimov.  If you read Asimov’s long or short fiction what you will find is that he is a purveyor of ideas.  But his characters, even his protagonists are ciphers.  There isn’t any emotional content worth mentioning.  And that even counts the scenes where the action is dependent on an emotional response from one of his characters.  He could just as well have been describing billiard balls ricocheting around a pool table.  You might even see the psychological logic of the emotional response but you won’t experience empathy or interest in the character as a human being because of it.  It’s just a plot device.

This was why Bradbury was different back then.  He wrote people in SF&F stories as if they actually were people.  Better writers back then were also doing this to some extent.  Heinlein’s characters displayed more individuality than the average and this is one of the reasons why he is still enjoyed.  But Bradbury brought this to a much higher level.

What else can be definitely said about Bradbury’s stories?  I would say that he almost exclusively deals in the foreground of the picture.  By that I mean that his subjects are almost always face to face.  If Arthur C. Clarke were describing a nuclear holocaust you would see it from orbit.  You would see the ballistic paths of the ICBMs and you would be at the top of the parabola when one missile starts to descend.  And you would see the individual nuclear ignitions across the face of the globe like some fireworks display.  That’s not Bradbury.  With him you’ll see the aftermath of a suburban home on the edge of the kill zone.  You’ll see the toaster in the kitchen and you’ll see the shadows of the family imprinted onto the side of the house facing the gamma ray flash.

Even when Bradbury does write a story of aliens invading earth you are not going to get War of the Worlds.  You’ll get that same suburban neighborhood with husbands and housewives and little Jimmy working on his hobby in the basement.

So now I’ve said a bunch of words about Bradbury’s short fiction.  If you’re looking for hard-core technical sf or even just plain old amusing space opera do not stop at Bradbury.  Move right along.  There’s none of that here.  But if you want to delve into the mysterious world within a world that is the human soul take a trip with him.  It might strike a resonant chord.  Or it might not.  Either way you’ll learn something.

Why No Love for the Craft of Howard Phillips? – Part 1- The Whisperer in the Darkness

I originally discovered H.P. Lovecraft because in the 1970’s the Ballantine Fantasy book imprint put out a series of paperback books of Lovecraft’s stories that sported covers that were wonderfully disturbing.  The one called “The Shuttered Room” had an image of a human head with sharp shards of glass sticking out of the forehead and cranium area.  The eyes were alert but the head terminated at about the upper lip. Below that it was just a dripping ooze of decay.  How could I resist?

The world divides into two camps.  Those who think H. P. Lovecraft was a great writer and those who don’t.  I fall solidly into the second camp.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate the guy and some of his writing is somewhat interesting.   But his writing style (if it can be called that) makes you want to throw the book at a wall or tear it in half.  Plot twists are telegraphed so blatantly that surprise is virtually impossible.  The plots themselves are sometimes so badly contrived as to suspend the suspension of disbelief in even the most sympathetic reader.  The prose is so arch and artificial that it descends into self-parody.  Sometimes he appears to be imitating Edgar Allen Poe but Lovecraft never makes it work for him.  So that’s my case against him.

That being said, I think Lovecraft had a very powerful imagination.  Buried inside some of his stories are elements that strike a nerve.  Sometimes he’ll describe a scene or paint an image that resonates.  Something primal and disturbing.  It’s almost as if he could pluck things out of his nightmares and embed them into a framework of poorly written and inept story elements.  I believe that Lovecraft’s horror talent was of a visual nature.  I have a theory that the best way to present his work is cinematically.  If a writer/director was sufficiently attuned to what is authentically frightening in Lovecraft’s works, I believe films based on some of his stories could be much better than the stories that Lovecraft left us.  But is there enough there?  The stories are a hodge-podge of plot elements and scenes.  Quite a bit of work would be needed to create a movie from any or even several of them strung together.  And is there actually enough of an audience to even warrant the expense of a major motion picture?  Director Guillermo del Toro attempted to bring “At the Mountains of Madness” to the screen but failed.   So, we’re stuck with the stories.

In this series of posts, I will give a few examples of what I think is some of his worst writing and then I’ll finish with some things that I felt were well done.

The first story is “The Whisperer in the Darkness.”  This is the story of two New Englanders communicating mostly by letter about an infestation of super-intelligent space-faring winged, giant lobster-shaped fungus creatures in northern Vermont.

There are many examples of terrible prose to choose from but one of my favorite passages is the one where the narrator recognizes the lobster man’s footprints, “Too well did I know the marks of those loathsome nippers, and that hint of ambiguous direction which stamped the horrors as no creatures of this planet.  No chance had been left me of merciful mistake.  Here, indeed, in objective form before my own eyes, and surely not made many hours ago, were at least three marks which stood out blasphemously among the surprising plethora of blurred footprints leading to and from the Akeley farmhouse.  They were the hellish tracks of the living fungi from Yuggoth.”  (italics by HPL).  So, the footprints are blasphemous?  I’ve got 12 years of Catholic school education and not once were lobsters mentioned except as an abstention during Lent but no blasphemy angle.  And he calls them the living fungi.  If they weren’t alive wouldn’t the story be kind of pointless?

So here we have a giant lobster that walks upright and apparently is able to propel itself through interstellar space on wings.  Also, even though these creatures have technology that allows them to traverse intergalactic space, wage war on super-intelligent aliens and remove human brains from their bodies and keep them alive and sentient inside a metal tank they are unable to prevent themselves from being drowned in the flooding of small Vermont streams and are also highly incompetent when confronted by a farmyard protected by an old man with a rifle assisted by his german shepherd dogs.

And one of the dopiest plot holes is the fact that every night the old man would withstand a siege at his farmhouse by these creatures but by the next day, he was free to go unmolested for miles in every direction to buy bullets and new guard dogs and even post the letters that were the text of the story.  Why didn’t he just keep driving until he got to Montpelier and then show the authorities the proof of his discovery.  Or at the very least just drive away and escape altogether?  Was he afraid the lobstermen would come after him in Boston or Providence.  Wouldn’t they be kind of conspicuous with the wings and claws and fishy smell?  And also New Englanders really like lobster meat.  I’d think of this whole invasion as a sort of food business start-up opportunity for the protagonists.

In addition to the ludicrous details of the flying-lobster-mushroom-men is the absurdity of the protagonist being unaware that one of the lobster men is dressed up as his friend and talking to him in the same room.  Endless clues are provided that point obviously to the identity of the “Whisperer” but apparently the narrator is possessed of such indestructible stupidity that at the end of the story he is shocked to discover the truth.  Maybe this is Lovecraft imitating some 19th century gothic horror story convention.  But it’s just plain ridiculous.

This story more than any other had me for a while entertaining the idea that Lovecraft was actually writing comedy.  I was imagining John Belushi or Chevy Chase dressed in a giant lobster suit with big floppy wings and covered with mushroom decals sitting across a dining room table from Wallace Shawn performing the dialogue from “My Dinner with Andre.”

Then I wondered if Lovecraft was a morphine addict.  But finally, I settled on the obvious reason.  He was a starving hack writer chronically broke and churning out dreck as best he could.  And this was what he produced.  Very sad.

Stay tuned for more Lovecraft complaining soon.

A Short Review of Rod Dreher’s Book, “The Benedict Option” – Part 1

Two weeks ago I was watching Andrew Klavan’s podcast on the Daily Wire ( http://www.dailywire.com/podcasts/16856/ep-320-death-stupid-andrew-klavan ) and he had an interview with Rod Dreher who has a book called “The Benedict Option.”  I had heard the title before but thought it had something to do with Pope Benedict abdicating. But the Benedict of the title is Saint Benedict who founded the Benedictine Monastic Order.  The sub-title of the book is “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.”  The thesis, as he explained it, is that America is no longer a Christian nation and in fact is now a place inimical to Christians trying to live their faith and raise their children in it.  He drew the analogy of Benedict coming from an Italian town to the city of Rome about twenty five years after the last emperor was deposed by a Germanic King.  Benedict found it a hollowed out and corrupt place.  He decided that the only way to live a Christian life was to separate from the dominant culture and set up a separate society.  According to Dreher this was the basis of the survival of Christianity and the remnants of roman culture in the Middle Ages.

Needless to say, I ordered the book.  I’ve only started it but the introduction basically states that the majority of Americans are not Christians and do not support the traditional concepts as illuminated in the Bible.  He believes that there is no chance that the culture will return to where it was even twenty five years ago but will instead continue down the progressive slope to Gomorrah.  And in fact traditionalist beliefs will be criminalized.

Sounds pretty depressing.  But instead, he says it’s an opportunity.  He thinks this will be the start of a revival.  And we should, like Benedict, gather the faithful and build a New Jerusalem.

When I finish the book, I’ll give you my opinion on his idea.  For now, let’s just say I’m intrigued and I think this idea has relevance for even those who are not Christians but feel that all traditional values are disappearing from the Western world.  After all it’s not that hard finding analogies between the present era and the Late Roman Empire.  Perhaps this time instead of Attila the Hun being the Scourge of God it will be Lady Gaga.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 1 – Dandelion Wine

 

When I was a kid back in the third quarter of the twentieth century I came upon science fiction in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.  And so I read Heinlein’s and Asimov’s juvenile sf stories.  As I got a little older I was able to borrow from the adult collection and soon discovered all the golden age authors and some of the newer, edgier writers.  But at a certain point I discovered Ray Bradbury.  I remember he had two collections called R is for Rocket, S is for Space.  But when I read them I found out he wasn’t writing space opera.  In fact, some of his stories didn’t seem to be science fiction at all.  At the time, I didn’t know what fantasy was.  They just seemed to be strange stories.  Later on, I found some of his stories showing up on “The Twilight Zone” TV series and this helped me categorize them as something weird and fun.  But whatever I called him Bradbury was different from the other writers I knew.  Each of his stories had to be evaluated on the merits.  Some of his stories lacked fantasy plot elements and at the time these stories seemed lacking in interest.  Others were almost horror stories and these kept my attention best.  Even his most externally identifiable science fiction stories, “The Martian Chronicles,” didn’t feel like other science fiction stories.  Even if there were ray guns and aliens and space ships it didn’t seem as if these were the point of the story.  They were more like parables or morality tales.  And to a kid this was perplexing.  But I always considered Bradbury as something worth reading.  He was high value.

Fast forward twenty years.  It was the late nineteen eighties.  I was in an old used bookstore in Boston during my lunch hour from a design engineering job I had.  I hadn’t read any science fiction in a while.  I was browsing through a pile of books that had been displayed earlier in the year as summer reading.  There was a used hard cover book with a mylar library-type jacket cover on and a cover painting of a little blond haired boy virtually covering the pavement with his chalk drawings of lines and shapes.  The book was called “Dandelion Wine” and the author was Ray Bradbury.  It was a novel length book and it surprised me because I didn’t remember Bradbury writing many novels.  At the time “Fahrenheit 451” was the only one I could think of.

On a lark, I bought it.  I put it on my bookshelf and figured I’d get to it when the project I was on slowed down.  Well I forgot all about that book and before that project slowed down I had changed jobs and was too busy for reading.  It was about nine months later in July, when I picked it up again.  I was going on vacation with my wife and kids to Old Orchard Beach, Maine for a week.  It’s a very working class old beach resort where middle class people go to sit by the ocean and let their kids dig sand castles and swim.  And later on, you can go down to the pier and buy bad pizza and ice cream for your kids and let them get fake tattoos or go down to the amusement park and watch them be centrifuged in the dozen or so kinetic devices that are used to extract dollars from parents and regurgitated food from kids’ stomachs.  The several years I brought my young family there are among the happiest memories I have.

Anyway, when the family settled in the beach house at night and the kids settled down to reading or watching the TV I picked up Dandelion Wine.  And I was surprised to find I had already read it.  But wait, not really, I’d read parts of it.  What Bradbury had done was patch together a number of his older stories along with transition scenes that tied them together, and make a narrative about a summer for a boy and his family and neighbors in Green Town, USA circa 1928.  What it really was, was an ode to the boyhood Ray Bradbury had lived and imagined in Waukegan, Illinois.  He used the memories of his childhood home and passed them through the story writing algorithm in his head and invented a world that struck me as remarkable.  Here were the mundane short stories that as a kid didn’t click with me because there were no monsters or space ships.  Now they were knitted together to talk about what was magical about being a twelve-year-old boy in a small mid-western town in the early twentieth century with three months of summer vacation ahead of you.  They are stories about family and friends and growing up and living and getting old and even dying.  And they are mostly about being a kid.

Since that summer I’ve re-read that book a dozen times in whole or part.  I mostly read it when I have some vacation time in summer.  This year I’ll be sixty.  When I read that book I’m not even sixteen, I’m twelve.  It’s remarkable.  I didn’t grow up in a small town.  I grew up on the relatively mean streets of Brooklyn, NY.  And I was born forty years after him.  But I can understand what he’s saying and feeling in his alter ego character.  He’s captured the essence of boyhood in its quintessential form, summer freedom.  And the setting is a simpler time and place.  It’s idyllic.  Not realistic but almost archetypal.

I imagine there are many for whom this type of story has no appeal.  It’s not high adventure or technical fun.  But if any of this strikes a chord try the book out.