Friday, June 22, 2018

The Wallet of Kai Lung, Ernest Bramah Smith

   I am new to Ernest Bramah. After a number of Japanese pieces of literature, I wanted to read something Chinese. The Wallet of Kai Lung certainly sounds Chinese. Ernest Bramah certainly doesn't sound Chinese. Is it a pseudonym? No it isn't. He's from England. Well, by the time I had that figured out I was already well into the story.
   Bramah's article on Wikipedia states that his works would be compared with those far more famous. That is to say, "His humorous works were ranked with Jerome K. Jerome and W. W. Jacobs, his detective stories with Conan Doyle, his politico-science fiction with H. G. Wells and his supernatural stories with Algernon Blackwood. George Orwell acknowledged that Bramah's book, What Might Have Been, influenced his Nineteen Eighty-Four. Bramah created the characters Kai Lung and Max Carrados."
   To be honest, until reading that bit about "What Might Have Been might have influenced his Nineteen Eighty-Four", I might never have felt the need to read another of his works. That is not to say that The Wallet of Kai Lung is bad. It is in fact a series of short stories, two of which I enjoyed in particular: "The Story of Yung Chang" and "The Vision of Yin, the Son of Yat-Huang." I also enjoyed, though to a lesser degree, "The Vision of Yin, the Son of Yat Huang." The writing style is good, but I could not read more than a single chapter in a single sitting without having to prop my eyes open with pins. Another issue was I had a hard time keeping track of the names. I don't know why I didn't have this problem with the Japanese stories that I read.
   Wikipedia's quotes from the stories are as follows:
  •     "He who lacks a single tael sees many bargains"
  •     "It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one’s time in looking for the sacred Emperor in low-class teashops"
  •     "It has been said there are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night"
I only recall reading the first two.
   There are another four of these books. Will I read another? I don't think so. But, that does not mean I recommend against it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Country Doctor, Franz Kafka

   Franz Kafka's novella, "Metamorphosis,"  and short story "The Hunger Artist," has forever placed Kafka as one of my personal top 10 or 20 preferred writer's list for the 20th century. So, when I found "The Country Doctor" by Kafka on feedbooks.com, I of course had to read it. It would seem that it is supposed to be a series of stories. I must hunt down the rest of them and be a bit more diligent in hunting down as much of his work as I possibly can.
   I'm not sure how to look at this story. It's like a backtrack to a very distant age when doctors were largely incapable of doing very much to help people. Their equipment was extremely primitive. For instance, when he listens to the heart of the patient, he must place his head against the chest rather than use any instrument.
   He discovers that the problem with the farmer is that he is infested with worms. There's nothing he can do to help him. Regardless, he is stripped naked and forced to lay with the dying man by the family. He is instructed to save the man or be killed should the man die. Fortunately, he is able to escape through the window with his clothes in hand with the assistance of a powerful team of horses which he had been able to borrow.
   I had no idea what kind of story this was when I started it. But it was definitely a journey into a very strange world. What a loss to literature it was when he died so young. What amazing literature he left behind. He really has very very few peers.

Dark Shanghai, Robert E. Howard


   There are a lot of Robert E. Howard stories on my blog this month. This story follows a sailor, Steve Costigan, who is unusually eager to get himself into trouble. Unlike many of Howard's heroes, this one is particularly stupid. He is so stupid, it becomes half comic, half adventure story.
   He is tricked into thinking that there's a girl who has been kidnapped. So, he goes to rescue her. She fights them tooth and nail. But, at no point does he consider the idea that he's been duped. He believes that he is taking the young woman to her brother.
   As he drags her kicking and screaming to the man he believes is her brother, the truth unravels. The man is not her brother. They are in fact competing thieves for a formula believed to be the equivalent of Ambergris. Ambergis is whale vomit which is used for high end perfumes and is incredibly valuable. 
   So, now that he's aware of having committed a wrong, he does everything he can to fix his mistake. He takes on them all and unkidnaps her. The formula, however, was ripped out of the book she'd hid it in by chance by his partner as a stopper for his bottle of liquor (as the normal stopper was lost). However, upon finishing the bottle, the partner happened across a man who bought it from him for enough money to buy another bottle of booze.
   So, while the characteristics of Howard's main character are somewhat changed into a comical idiot, the fearlessness and adherence to a barbaric code of honour remains hard coded into the character's core. 
   There is definitely some anti-Asian racism in this story. The Chinese characters are referred to as yellow devils. Certainly, the main character thinks nothing about the non-white characters. This is beginning to be a problem for me in how I appreciate Howard as a writer.

The White Stocking, D. H. Lawrence

  
   D. H. Lawrence is one of a few legendary English literature writers of the last century that I have not read anything of. I'm not sure why. I guess I have always had this idea that his writing would be dreadfully boring. This is rather silly I suppose. For what reason I have this impression from him I could not say. Did I see a movie or film adapted from one of his stories or novels and find that boring and used it to forever tarnish my impression of him? I cannot really say. Well, I often see his name on lists of controversial books. Controversial books and writers are often more interesting than the rest. So, I guess I finally found myself motivated to read this short story of his. "The White Stocking" is available in various formats at goodreads.com.
   I think that if I had read this story 10 years ago I might have found it to be boring as expected. But I found some perverse pleasure in reading it. It's the story of a yearling wife who hasn't quite moved on past the other relationships with other men that tempted her before her choice of husband. The other man had decided to send her earrings and the stocking she had lost at a party which had ultimately defined her choice of husband.
   She hadn't quite moved on from that scene and hung onto the fond memories of her with this other man. As her husband discovers that she still has some interest in her former admirer, and she becomes internally cognizant of her lustful desires, and aware of the lustful desires he had had for her, he becomes enraged. On the verge of uncontrollable anger, he strikes her.
   At least for the moment, she is subdued. They fall asleep together in each others arms.
   This story seems to be about how to own your wife when she's thinking of other men. I can't help but wonder that feminists haven't torn this short story to shreds. Where is Lawrence on this? There's the idea that a writer can write a story about something while holding it at arm's length. This is the story free from any judgment. But I think it was an endorsement.
  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Son of the White Wolf, Robert E. Howard

   This is one of several by Robert E. Howard that I've read over the past little while. This one can be found for free at Australia's version of feedbooks.com. There are many other Howard tales available there. This is another El Borak tale in
   The story follows a shift in power in Turkey as Germany's military begins to fail at the end of WWI and the Brits are taking over. A small time leader decides to begin a mad dash for power. He kills the German authority, kills the old men, women, and young children, and kidnaps the women with the intention of starting a new race in an old Pagan religion.
   Howard was a Texan. To be honest, I have a prejudice against Texans. I see them as a lot of racists and Bible thumpers. Howard, of course, being a favorite of my youth, is Texan. So, he is a bit at odds with my prejudices.
   Speaking of prejudices, my radar is perhaps a bit sensitive. Howard writes that villagers 'crept from their hovels to stare in awe at the first white woman most of them had ever seen.' There is this impression that Howard, much like Edgar Rice Burroughs, felt that the white barbarian was the greatest barbarian. The white barbarian has the brains of a white man, and the ferocity of the 'other races.' He is deadly, but still a gentleman with the ladies, unlike the other races.
   So I worry about this sort of thing that would tarnish my impression of this particular Texan. I have sometimes thought that he wasn't really the racist that so many others are. But love is blind, right? Maybe the fact that I liked him particularly well blinds me to the fact that he might have been a raging promoter of the Aryan super race.
   But, while he has often spoken poorly of the Kurds (in this story and another), he did write of the Arabs who fought beside the hero, El Borak. "A stern chivalry was the foundation of their (Arab) society, just as it was among the frontiersmen of early America. There was no sentimentalism about it. It was real and vital as life itself." So, this passage seems to vindicate him at least in respect to the Arab/Muslims.
   Most of Howard's women are rather weak creatures. But as the tale comes to its conclusion, the woman whom he is supposed to know as a German enemy, he actually knows as a British undercover double agent. Borak gives his respect to her. Howard did have some tough women: Red Sonja, Belit (the pirate captain), and Valeria. They weren't just strong women, they were dominant alpha humans who were not the weak things that the men around them were supposed to rescue.
   In fact, that's sort of one of the reasons why I have always been particularly fond of Howard. His women were not the weaklings that so many other authors portray/portrayed them as. In terms of the charge of racism, this jurist needs to weigh more evidence before a conclusion can be reached.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Country of the Knife, Robert E. Howard

   I have probably said it before. Robert E. Howard was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager. I must say that I still find his work highly enjoyable. You can find it freely on Feedbooks.org.
   I have read this story before. But it does no harm to read it again. El Borak is another indomitable fighting character. He shares a lot of the characteristics that Howard's Conan has. This story somehow got back onto my Kindle and I didn't bother going for another story. I just decided to reread it.
   The story follows a young man who hears from the lips of a dying friend a message meant for El Borak. So, he sets out for the adventure of a lifetime. Even as he's been caught by El Borak's enemies and he is being hauled to the slave block in a mountain community in some Afghanistan.
   El Borak comes to the rescue and for the message that he wanted to hear from the messenger. Not all goes according to plan. But through a desperate struggle and a great deal of killing, they manage to escape from the clutches of this Afghanistan fort.
  It's not a bad story. Not my favorite series of Howard's. I would never have gone out of my way to reread it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The King of the City, Keith Laumer


   When I was much younger, Keith Laumer was a favorite of mine. His tales move fast, there's plenty of action, and it's science fiction. An excellent cocktail to hold my interest in those days. I was curious to see how I would like his work at this point in my life. "The King of the City" is a short fiction. I have read it before. You can find it for free at www.gutenberg.org.
   In fact, I feel like I've read it several times before. It's the story set in a world where order has crumbled and a struggle for power in the vacuum is taking place. The main character is a driver who takes a man deep into the city. He has to fight through roadblocks and mafia like characters to get to the heart of the city wherein the city's kingpin exercises his power.
   It turns out that the fare was an admiral in the previous administration's military arm while the driver was also of the military. They are looking for fuel for their ships, and the kingpin has his stash.
   This is a fun little short story.