Monday, March 28, 2016

The Drawing of the Three, Stephen King

It's not possible to get a second hand Kindle edition version of this book as it is the paperback version. Therefore, either read the paperback version, or pay the $8.99/$10.60 (I think one price is US and the other Canadian), available on

First off, I was disappointed in the introduction. It's the same introduction as the first novel in this eight volume octology. Having started the third volume, I can say that the third is the same as the first as well. Why couldn't you write a different introduction for the other books, Stephen?

Having completed volume two, I can honestly say that King has failed to match Tolkien as he had hoped. However, this is nothing to be ashamed of. King pumped these out at breakneck speed while Tolkien made it his life's work. That said, I burned through this book's four hundred some odd pages (according to Google) in less than two days. I don't know if that's a record for me, but it might be. In other words, it was a gripping novel that is hard to put down.

Our protagonist, Roland, is hunting down three people who are to help him in his quest for the Dark Tower. There is some kind of door that appears magically out of nowhere. When he opens it, he is able to control the consciousness of whomever the door is set to.

 Roland goes to the beach and suffers an encounter with massively large lobsters King calls lobstrosities. The fight results in the loss of two fingers from his right hand and results in a deadly bacterial infection.

The first he picks up is a drug addict, Eddie. He saves him from prison, is instrumental in delivering him from the drug lord who had conscripted him for trafficking cocaine, via airplane, into the US. He is a heroin addict and a bad junkie. His brother is worse. However, in the end the drug kills him. He crosses into Roland's world and helps him in his quest. He brings with him some drugs, but it's not enough to completely destroy the bacteria in his system.

The second person is a black lady named Odetta. She is very tough but has a split personality that is a kind of Jekyll and Hyde. One is a deadly killer and the other a highly educated lovely lady. Eddie falls in love with her, but she is difficult to manage because of her second personality and the fact that her legs were cut off and consequently she needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair. However, that does not mean she is helpless. She is very dangerous.

The last is Jack Mort. But rather than bring Jack back, he uses Jack to rob a store of antibiotics and get some ammunition. He never thinks to get other firearms for his new colleagues. At this time, however, Odetta (good)/Detta (bad) is in bad mode and takes hostage of Eddie. Jack Mort is the man who is responsible for her condition. He is a psychopath who pushes people into traffic, subway trains, and drops bricks on random people. Odette/Detta was one of the victims twice--once as a girl he dropped a brick on, and once as a woman whom he pushed in front of a train which took her legs from her; as was the boy, Jake, from volume one of the series. Therefore, the gunslinger has no pity for him and hates him and subjects him to considerable pain before forcing him to kill himself by jumping in front of a subway train.

While the gunslinger is in that other world, Odetta/Detta has mercilessly tied Eddie up for the lobstrosities to eat up.

Once he does that, Odetta/Detta become a single character, thereafter referred mostly to as Susannah, becomes their friend and ally. She saves Eddie and they become buddies. Roland brings back a lot of drugs to take care of his infection and ammunition. Roughly at this point The Drawing of the Three comes to an end.

It's a very enjoyable story and King has kept me glued to the pages. Some other notes: the style between volume one and two has shifted. Both metaphors and similes, forced and brilliant, ar eno longer present. So, I missed the moments of brilliant description and was grateful for the absence of the forced ones which pained me on occasion. I also didn't catch any run-on sentences. I think he hired a good proofreader for this volume!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Gunslinger, Stephen King

I think I remember reading this book a long time ago. The title is familiar. But that's it. Maybe I read This is just the first of eight in a series. So, that means to go from point a to point z courtesy of Amazon, you're looking at about $80. Mass market paperback, on the other hand, will set you back by about $0.51. It might cost the environment a few more kg in CO2, but that's not his or his publisher's nightmare, is it? I guess it was something else. Unfortunately, the only way to get this book for free or at a reasonable price is to either a) get lucky and borrow it, b) someone throws it away and you take it, c) steal it from friend, stranger, or foe, or d) buy it second hand from a second hand bookstore. Why there is a premium on an old book going through Amazon is beyond me. For $10.46 you can get your Kindle version.

I am reading not the original version, but the version that has been revised since the completion of the octology. The changes, he mentions in the introduction that he wanted to do an epic series. This is his opus magnum.

Stephen King is a master of narrative. No sane mind, and probably no insane mind, would dispute this opinion having read his books. He really owns his genre.

His similes and metaphors are frequent, and occasionally real gems. "A gunslinger knows pride, that invisible bone that keeps the neck stiff." There are several other gems that I really liked. Other times a few of the metaphors seem forced. I didn't record those instances and I'm not going to dig for them. So, my impression could be wrong and maybe I was just in 'a mood'.

The story is that the gunslinger, named Roland Deschain, is out for revenge against "The Man in Black," I think because of something the man did to his mother a decade or two earlier. His own father had been a gunslinger. He is said to be not as fast or as smart as the other gunslinger students, but his teacher, Cort, tells him that he's the best student he's had in a long time. He is described as slow and deliberate. 

Eventually he does track down the man in black. Or, perhaps it can be more accurate to say that the man in black leads him to this final destination. Along the way he runs into a small village where he is set upon by a witch and all those who are under her spell. In all there are some 70 men, women, and children, who all try to kill the gunslinger. But he kills them all. In the pages of killing, I like this line: 
She was large and fat and known to the patrons of Sheb's as Aunt Mill. The gunslinger blew her backwards and she landed in a whorish sprawl, her skirt rucked up between her thighs.
I am surprised, however, to see runon sentences in his book. The one above is not the only one I spotted. Great descriptions, but always surprised to see stuff like that considering he was an English university grad, school teacher, and has an editor to ferret out such things.

After he's done killing the congregation of the witch,
They trailed in a twisting, zigzagging path from the back door of the barber shop to where he stood.
There is even a lovely illustration of the bodies lying in zigzag formation.

Eventually he does get to the man in black. He wakes up ten years older in the mountains after his conversation with the man, or palaver as King likes to put it, and the man in black is a skeleton. How this comes to pass or why is unknown. It is here that King leaves off volume one of eight in The Dark Tower series.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Uncensored Letters of a Canteen Girl, Kathleen Duncan Morse

There is very little information about this book and Kathleen Duncan Morse. Even the dates of her .

birth and death are a mystery. Her birth is 1888, and she worked in a canteen during WWI from 1917-1919. This is all I can really find out about her aside from the reading of her letters which in themselves give little direct description of herself. It's freely available at

She has authored one other book, and a play. Other than that information, there is nothing else I could find about her. Wikipedia does not have anything, and there are no images anywhere. That is quite a shame. Should she have had a camera it would have been twice as interesting.

A part of the reason I decided to read this book is because I don't read enough lady authors. I really need to improve that. 

Kathleen's letters are extremely well written short narratives. She has a knack for entertaining the reader with candid descriptions of her life in the American camp in which she worked. She would have been 28 to 30 years of age over the course of these letters. I try to draw an image of her, but it is difficult. She talks very little about herself and her life in America. The narratives are about her life in France during the war.

Most of my impressions of the author are rather vague and without any substance from the reading. In my mind I see a portly white woman, probably Irish with a name like Kathleen. She sounds like the aunt figure to many of the young men for whom she cares. She writes, while sick in Paris away from her canteen,

...some day I'll get back to the hut again I suppose, and when I do, if those boys aren't almost half as glad to see me as I am to see them, why I'll know that some other canteen lady has been surreptitiously stealing their affections, and I shall put poison in her soup.
- from January 30

Her narratives are highly skilled: short, sometimes action filled, with colourful descriptions which make the letters very entertaining. Her description of an enemy bombing raid on Paris:

As I watched, a burning plane looking like a great tinsel ball seared its way through the sky, falling just to the right of Paris.
- from January 31
By the time the war is through and the cleanup process has begun, she is given leadership roles. Even though she has completed her duty in France, when she hears about the awfulness of Verdun, she volunteers to help with her canteen.

She has a positive effect on those around her. She will steer around rules in order to help everyone she can. She smuggles beans and other items to a starving village.

Prophetically, she writes,

They're not beaten for good, the prisoners invariably declare. Just as soon as the Americans have gone and things have calmed down a bit, they are coming back to France again, they say, and this time they will settle matters with the French for good and all.
Conflans, March 30, 1919

Of course, they were right. They would be back in less than two decades, more vicious and evil than before.

So many of the boys, she remarks in her final letter, had gone to the war wanting to escape their home.
"I used to want to get away from home," confided one boy to me, "but when I get back there again I"m just going to tie myself so tight to Mother's apron-strings that she'll never get the knot undone."
I enjoyed reading this book. I don't think I've ever read a book covering the war aside from assigned chapters in public school.

I spent a lot of time looking for more information on this author. But there is very little. It is a shame, as I am very curious what became of her. If anyone knows more than I do, please contribute it in the comments section below.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers

I think I found this author through an author reference: H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King. I can't be sure, but it was a recent search and find. There are several of his books for free on Amazon, which is where I got this edition. Despite the book being a small collection of short stories, the Amazon edition offers no tabbing between stories. Therefore, I suggest going to if you decide you want to read this book. Gutenberg does a better job of formatting books than this publisher did. They are both free.

There is some variety in the stories here. Four of them seem to have a link to the title. The rest do not. The references to the King in Yellow are sparse. I wonder if the references were added after the stories were written or if they were important. In any case, reading The King in Yellow (the fictional one in the first four stories) is a kind of curse that only ends in the ruin of whomsoever reads it. The first story nearly had me giving up on the text. I don't really recall why. Momentarily I thought I was reading something of poor quality. However, the quality does pick up considerably and it is well worth reading.

Ironically, when I first read them, I thought the stories toward the end were the best and the ones at the beginning not so great. Having reread them, however, I find the inverse true. The best stories are about the King in Yellow. The rest are entertaining, but romance is not the equal of horror.

Sadly, the author himself disappoints me as a person.
...this was an Anglo-=Saxon country. Then the average intelligence of the nation was higher and the taste in literature better. But there came the great rush of immigration to the United States from Europe, and the Anglo-Saxon culture of the country was diluted...
 From "What is Genius?" Robert W. Chambers

It just goes to show that a great writer doesn't have to be a great human being.


Image from AZ Quotes

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.


The Repairer of Reputations

It was this story I nearly ended my relationship with Robert W. Chambers. The language felt fake. Like it was written in a vernacular that wasn't really the writer's. This is probably an accurate assessment considering he is American. I suppose there's nothing really wrong with that. After all, half of a writer is fiction: he lives in the books he (or she) reads and the characters and language of those writers and writers' characters becomes the vernacular of the author, does it not? In any event, I'm quite happy that I fought past this impression and read through. The story itself isn't bad, and there are several that follow it that are much better.

The first chapter of this story caught my attention: that of the lethal chamber. A government sanctioned method of ending one's life. But for all but the tail of this tale, there is little or nothing to do with the lethal chamber.

The character, Mr. Wilde, is a repairer of armour. This is his passion and hobby. But his bread winning comes from repairing reputations. If someone has a bad reputation, they merely go to him, offer a lot of money, and his network of social manipulators.

The story is told in first person. Most interestingly that person goes quite crazy at the end and dies in a footnote after killing Mr. Wilde's crazy cat and terrorizing a doctor.

I'm unsure whether I like or dislike the disconnects that go through this story. It only makes sense since the narration is from a mad-man. But then that puts in doubt the truth of the narrative. But what is truth? Truth is a perspective from the interpretation of the observer, and not necessarily truth in some scientific truth or fact.

Of the four stories related to the title, this is the only one where it makes much sense. A kind of mad reference, if you will. The other three which reference it look contrived: as if they were added later to make them somehow better connected to the title of the book.

The Mask

This story is the first of a series based on some art students or artists (both, sometimes). I really enjoyed these. It's nice being transported to these times and places. The perspective though is definitely American with its Puritanical aesthetic which, in my opinion, reduced its appeal. "Geneviève was lovely. The Madonna-like purity of her face might have been inspired by the Sanctus in Gounod's Mass." But nonetheless, the story was highly entertaining.

At this point in my review, I have already read all of the stories. I am scanning the stories trying to remember what they are about. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? In any case, this story feels out of the timeline. These are artists, not students. Later stories include a war and students. Why Chambers chose to arrange them so (or his editor) I cannot guess.

This is the second of the four stories which have a relation to The King in Yellow. Two artists love a single woman. The narrator is the loser in the worst way: the woman, Geneviève, goes for his friend, Boris, but really loves the narrator. Perhaps she said that to make him feel better about his loss.

The couple, his friend and his unrequited love, fall into the fabled King in Yellow and thereby invite a curse upon them. The curse turns the living into marble: Boris, a white rabbit, and Geneviève. She, however, comes back to the realm of the living. She does not know. She is surprised and remarks, "the marble rabbit had been stolen and a live one had been brought into the house." She does not know that she herself had been one of the marble statues brought back.


"I was worn out by three nights of physical suffering and mental trouble: the last had been the worst, and it was an exhausted body, and a mind benumbed and yet acutely sensitive, which I had brought to my favourite church for healing. For I had been reading The King in Yellow."

There is a certain poetry of doom in this story. The soul of the narrator is doomed because of his reading The King in Yellow. The narrator is trying to escape an awful death: not death itself. For the religious, death is a kind of release: a release into heaven or hell. It's the latter I believe the author is fearful for. He is trying to escape an already dead gatherer of souls through the church.

I don't know if the narrator is living, dying, or dead at the end:
Death and the awful abode of lost souls, whither my weakness long ago had sent him, had changed him for every other eye but mine. And now I heard his voice, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light, and as I fell, the radiance increasing, increasing, poured over me in waves of flame. Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the King in Yellow whispering to my soul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Who is the living God that the King in Yellow refers to? Is it God and His sidekick, Jesus? Is it the God of the King in Yellow (presumably some Satanic figure, if not Satan himself--even if Satan is never mentioned by name).

The Yellow Sign

This is the last of the stories related to the title The King in Yellow stories in this book.

The narrator is again an artist. He is painting his canvas from a nude model posing. But his painting is overtaken by some kind of plague. Did he paint it that way and suddenly notice it, or was it somehow cursed? But it starts with his noticing a watchman.

Tessie, the model, dreams of the artist being dead. The dream terrifies her and resembles a scene: a kind of deja vu preceded by the dream. Their relationship of artist and favourite model transforms itself into a marital one. But in the end, not even the death of Death Himself saves the narrator:  "I think I am dying. I wish the priest would—"

The Demoiselle D'Ys

This is a romance of science fiction proportions. A man travels back in time to meet a beautiful falconer. He falls in love with her. But as he is bitten by a snake, he finds himself awake back in his own time. He has nothing to remember her except that his name is on her tombstone, somehow survived all those centuries for him to see.

The Prophet's Paradise

This is the title to a series of sketches. Beautiful and dark. 
On the hearth a tongue of flame whispered above the whitening ashes: "Wait no more; they have passed, the steps and the voice in the street below.
Who cannot but love such a vivid image? The more I work on this blog entry, rereading bits and pieces to remind myself on each story, the more I fall in love with this author's work. It is no longer any marvel to me that H.P. Lovecraft should love these stories so much.
The Clown turned his powdered face to the mirror.
"If to be fair is to be beautiful," he said, "who can compare with me in my white mask?"
"Who can compare with him in his white mask?" I asked of Death beside me.
"Who can compare with me?" said Death, "for I am paler still."
"You are very beautiful," sighed the Clown, turning his powdered face from the mirror.


The Street of the Four Winds

This story is almost as magical as something that Oscar Wilde would have written--but with a macabre twist.

A lonely artist, Severn, speaks with the animals, and they speak with him. A cat comes to him in a terrible state. Her fur is in nasty shape and she is hungry. He feeds and takes care of her. Then they have a kind of conversation. Severn wanders around but eventually discovers that the owner of the cat is dead.

The kiss at the end of the tale is disturbing. But it is written so eloquently that it is almost forgivable that she is a corpse of indeterminate age.
She was pale, but not as white as he; her eyes were untroubled as a child's; but he stared, trembling from head to foot, while the candle flickered in his hand.
At last he whispered: "Sylvia, it is I."
Again he said, "It is I."
Then, knowing that she was dead, he kissed her on the mouth. And through the long watches of the night the cat purred on his knee, tightening and relaxing her padded claws, until the sky paled above the Street of the Four Winds.

The Street of the First Shell

What do artists do in Paris as the city lay in a siege? The Prussians are shelling Paris and starving her citizens. Even wealthy people are paying expensive sums for sewer rat meat. Regardless, the sculptor sculpts and the painters paint, as much as they can even as shells explode. They have relationships.

One couple finds extreme happiness in each other's affection. Surely love seems stronger at such a time: like how a star twinkles in the night sky. The story follows a rather exciting push back against an invisible enemy. The enemy is never really described. The narrator describes the grisly deaths of French fighters. I don't know if the resistance in this instance proves successful. But it is better to fight and die than die from hunger I think.

This was really an enjoyable story. It's definitely out of my usual reading genres. But it was exciting and provocative.

The Street of the Lady of Our Fields

Another story about artists. This time it follows a character who is American and Puritanical. For being Puritanical, he is praised up and down and wins the respect of fellow artists immediately rather than having to earn it in the usual fashion (over time).

It is charming, romantic. But there is nothing of the King in Yellow here.

Rue Barrée

This story is a romance. A poor but beautiful woman enchants all the artists. One of the wealthy ones even offers marriage to her, but is refused and is later very grateful. She never has a name and is referred to as Rue Barrée. It's a cute story, but there is no macabre delight here.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Status Civilization, Robert Sheckley

This short novel is available freely on Sheckley's short fiction, the free fiction I have already remarked on in an earlier post, is a bit more miss than hit in my estimation. But this book is excellent and worth every penny (it's free!). It's also worth half a day of your free time.

Of all the Sheckley stories I've read thus far, this is by far the best. It has a timelessness about it. There's usually a quaintness to most science fiction stories that are decades old. On star ships traversing massive distances there are computers whose computations are outputted on bits of paper that come out, much like state-of-the-then-art computers did in the 50s. It is interesting, though, that much of what those writers thought of computers have remained largely unchanged. Computers are still emotionless computational devices expected to answer questions that most of us cannot answer.

But this book isn't like that. It doesn't have the naive simplicity that is often in those types of novels or short stories. This is one of those books that would do well today unchanged from its original form. There would be no need to update its technology.

The novel is set in the distant future. Mankind has resolved itself, mostly. Earth is peaceful. There is no more fighting. There are no police or militaries. Children are programmed to turn themselves in should they commit a crime. When they do, they are sent to a colony. It's a planet of criminals who are murderers or scammers or whatever it is they are.

On that planet, people kill to survive and thrive. The only way to advance on the planet is by killing. One man is sent there, and he manages to survive everything that is thrown at him against all impossible odds. He is, at the very last, saved by a group who want to go back to Earth. They want to see what Earth is like. They don't know, because before they come to the planet, their memories of their past are all wiped clean.

The resistance to going back to Earth does not exist. Where Barrent expects police to track him and force him back to the planet. But they don't, because they are unneeded.

He ultimately discovers that in the first place, he did not commit any crime. Furthermore, the one who turned him into the police was himself. He had been programmed since a child to turn himself in should he be a killer. Even though he didn't do it, there was enough evidence in his own mind to suspect himself, and convict himself, of the crime he never committed.

The book is really great sci fi the way it should be. I really enjoyed it and hope you will enjoy it, too.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Robert Sheckley Short Stories on Gutenberg, Robert Sheckley

Robert Sheckley, image from NY Review of SF
There are many Robert Sheckley story books out there. This one is just in my own imagination and is not real. It just contains the public domain short stories by Robert Sheckley available at Gutenberg now has 16 stories plus one in audio format.

The Leech

There is a style from the era in which this story is taken. A lot of liberty in the ability of our founding astronaut fathers and their commanders that they were able to do things more fantastic than in fact they could.

A leech or alien being capable of consuming all forms of energy and matter to become larger hits the earth. Unfortunately, all forms of brute strength are not enough. A shovel used to try to remove it is consumed. A jeep used to drive over it gets eaten by it, tires and all. Bombs, including an atom bomb, are used to try to destroy it. All to no avail.

Finally, they get the idea that they can get a lot of radioactive material to use as a kind of carrot for the ass. They at first decide to take the carrot to the sun, but then realize that the entity might consume the sun. So they then lead it away from the sun and then detonate the nuclear warhead. The warhead destroys the leech, but the body of the leech is converted into billions of baby leeches.

The Hour of Battle

 There's this idea that one day our curiosity might end us. We might find ourselves going somewhere that results in us making contact with an alien species which has a technology or ability for which we have no adequate defense. In this case, contact is made with beings that have the ability to take over our ability to control ourselves. The telepathic ability is possible to detect, but once detected it's already too late. And then, even if it is detected, then what?

A few things that made me laugh a bit: playing gin. The technological world that makes the setting in this story is so advanced that there are ships that can travel to other systems and ships capable of defending mankind from other ships. However, they haven't yet discovered basic forms of entertainment we enjoy today. They don't have any kind of Internet or TV to watch. As a result, the soldiers are experiencing cabin fever. They've been stuck for awhile and are getting antsy with each other.

I can't help but wonder: what is the hardest thing about being stuck out in space? How would I feel?


Imagine what good might one day come of an immortality drug. Take it, and you can live forever. Then imagine what bad might one day come of an immortality drug. Who would have the right to use it? Who would not? If it comes, will it be a good government in place or a bad one? Would the world be a better place, or a worse one? The author suggests a dystopia.

Beside Still Waters

A hermit lives on an asteroid. He has a little farm. Once upon a time, he imagined having the company of a wonderful woman, but she never materialized. He never really looked for her. He sounds very anti-social anyhow.

So, the hermit buys a robot which can only say a few things. But it's enough for the man who grows old on his asteroid farm. But the equipment degrades and fails, and he suffocates (but doesn't explode due to air pressure loss, I guess). In any case, the robot stays by his side and then says an unscripted prayer for him (or is it scripted? The author never indicates).

Death Wish

A mechanical problem causes a spaceship to overshoot its destination (Mars), and as a result, the crew members are doomed. They turn on a super computer designed for Mars to see if it can't come up with a solution to their problem. Unfortunately, its solution is much the same as the others, but it has a sense of humour.

Warrior Race

This is actually one of the better stories. A ship without enough fuel to make it to wherever they need to go has to stop by a planet for refueling. The alien race that inhabits the planet is a warrior race. But rather than being the kind of warrior who is a great killer, these warriors kill themselves until the others give up.

This makes it difficult for the human visitors as they don't want them to kill themselves and they also need the fuel. They are not under any real threat from the warriors. They wear space suits which are impervious to such primitive weapons. But their conscience refuses to allow them to sacrifice themselves in such a way.

They take the chief hostage and threaten to kill them, thereby stealing from them the honourable way to die (suicide). This works, they get their fuel, and they're on their way.

Bad Medicine

This is actually a good short fiction. I really enjoyed this and had a good laugh at the conclusion. Clearly Sheckley had a good sense of humour. A man wants to kill his friend. But, at the same time, he doesn't. So, he goes to a place where there are machines for sale. He knows he's crazy. He is looking for a cure. So he buys the machine and takes it home.
For whatever reason, the store had on display a model actually meant for Martians. Martians are completely different from humans. I'm not entirely clear on all of these differences, but they seem substantial: how they are raised as young as well as their problems. I am not sure if they are human or something else. In any case, so he gets the wrong treatment.

Police try to track him down, and they do so successfully. However, the psychotic claims that he has been cured despite having the wrong machine. But he hasn't been cured. He still wants to kill his best friend, but not with a gun and not for the same reasons (which were not reasonable in the first place).

Cost of Living

This story has an uncanny relationship with current day problems: everyone is in debt. In this sci-fi setting, parents sign their children up for debts. The items they buy do everything for them: cooking, driving, cleaning. To get them all, they must go into tremendous credit. The credit is so great that they cannot pay for everything in their lifetimes, even though their lives have been extended into the 150s. Furthermore, work is little more than pushing a button for everyone. The author makes it seem quite dystopic. There is nothing to really do. Just relax and push buttons.

Keep Your Shape

After "Bad Medicine", I'd have to say that thus far this is my favorite story of Sheckley's. Aliens who can shift into any shape or any animal they want are sent to Earth to open a portal to their own world for domination. However, when they get to Earth, they find that they are free. In their own world, they are in rigid castes, not unlike what I have heard of India. They may only take the shapes that are passed down to them from generation to generation. So, if your father was a pilot, then you must also be a pilot.

When they come to Earth, they do not want to bring his Grom brothers to colonize it because they want to be free to assume whatever shape they wish. It's an interesting take on immigration and freedom of choice.

 Ask a Foolish Question

A machine is programmed to answer questions. It's located on a special planet in orbit around a special star. But no one can ask it the right questions. All the questions are foolish, I suppose. In the end they give up.

"In order to ask a question you must already know most of the answer."

I don't always get the reason for a story. This is one of those stories I don't understand the ending to or the point to.

Diplomatic Immunity

This story is about an alien who is making an attempt to prepare people for the coming of his people.

Some parts of this story make no sense. The takeover is somewhat hostile. That is to say, it is not just a 'hello, nice to meet you. Let's be friends.' It's a, 'We're coming, nothing you can do about it. So just accept it peacefully.' Well, by being diplomatic at all, the alien race is doing itself a disservice. It would have been better if the diplomat had simply found Earth and sat in the park to wait for his people to settle the planet. Instead, he gives the humans all the time in the world to figure out how to destroy him, which they ultimately succeed at.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Complete H.P. Lovecraft Collection: Fiction, Poetry, Essays and Letters, H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft is one of those names I grew up with. It's a name synonymous with the authors I loved the most growing up: Edgar Allan Poe and Robert E. Howard. So, when I heard, courtesy of a friend, that Amazon was giving away a complete collection of Lovecraft's fiction, I of course dropped everything and made sure to pick up a copy. Sorry, but that price point is no longer so sweet. now sells it for $.99. That's not a bad price considering what you get: a vast amount of literature capable of keeping you busy for a few months. It has a table of contents.This is something that would be terribly missed in so voluminous a volume.

I know that Lovecraft is revered. But, having gone through a few stories so far, I simply cannot seem to place them on the same shelf as Edgar Allan Poe or Robert E. Howard.

This text is quite long. It's roughly equivalent to three hefty Dickens novels. I don't think I will do it all in a single setting. I will do a few at a time and update this post as I read them.


The Alchemist

Not a bad little horror story--the sort of pulp magazine fiction that would do well as a B-rated film script. A man is born with a curse. It is at once a magical curse and not a magical curse. It is magical in the sense that the nasty things that happened to his ancestors and nearly happened to him were the result of a kind of wizard who had attained a kind of immortality. But it was no curse in the sense that magical things would happen, or coincidental things would happen, due to some spoken curse.

At the Mountains of Madness

Image found at Mutantville.
 The beginning of this story feels so mechanical and dry. Like it's really out of the journal of some kind of explorer. The setting is the frozen continent: Antarctica. Perhaps the Antarctica had just begun to open up to explorers in Lovecraft's day and, therefore, easily exploited as an unknown possible horror.

Most of the story is pretty descriptive of setting. He goes into wordy descriptions of creatures and of this hidden city in the middle of the Antarctic. It is not until the main character begins to follow in the footsteps of the explorer, Lake, who disappears. He has gone to find out what happens to him. As a result, he discovers an alien race and some living remnants.

However, after seeing the ancient history of these alien races on earth through sculptures and artwork, a terrifying mist comes after his group, motivating a hasty retreat and a lucky escape.

There are really no characters. Although there are characters in the story, they are really nothing at all: no personalities at all. Does anyone say anything at all? No dialogue?

Current Thoughts

I am not entirely sure where I stand on this material. On the one hand, I think it is a kind of incomplete story: like there are parts missing to make it a good read. On the other, he was a kind of important pioneer. Many of the 20th century writers I admire point to him as an important influence.

In the Wikipedia article on H. P. Lovecraft, there is mention of his influences: Poe, Lord Dunsany, and others. I am already very familiar with Poe, while I don't recall having read any of Lord Dunsany.

Some things are worth reading just to get a sense of where other writers come from. I think this is one of those stories: read it to get a sense of historical evolution in the genres of science fiction and horror.

 --- I don't know when my next post on this book will be. Until then... may your nightmares consume you in unholy terror.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

I have read some Stephen King books. Granted, probably not in the last twenty years. I'm not really sure why, as he's an excellent modern writer. The copy I got is a PDF online for free. I can't help but think it's not authorized by Stephen King considering that the distributor is located in Russia. If you want to go ahead and pay $10.52 for the digital version on, I'm sure King and his publisher would be delighted. Reading the PDF on my Kindle, however, comes at a cost: the text is extremely small. It's some kind of revenge, I'm sure.

What I was expecting: a dry book about grammar or a personal system about how he churns out his popular fiction. But what I got instead is an autobiographical account of writing in his life. Most of it feels like a forward at this point, despite the PDF having three already. Thus far, I have been highly entertained. There is something about King's ability to turn a phrase or frame an experience or scene which is fresh and raw while maintaining a high degree of quality. Perhaps I have been spending too much time with the literary 'greats' like Charles Dickens and not enough time with contemporary greats like Stephen King.

The first thing from the book, aside from being impressed with his style, what really poked me in the eye was that his mother was his first and biggest fan. When he wrote, she bought copies. She encouraged him in a way that must have been vitally important and it makes me hope I remember this well enough for when (or if) I have my own little brood: rather than giving him money to do things he does not like or want to do: dishes, taking out garbage, or other typical chores, she gives him money to do things that he does love to do. Encourage and foster a love for doing something rather than putting value on base chores which no one can love. What a remarkably simple but powerful way to build King's self confidence and love for what he really loves. There's no battle of wills between a reluctant parent and hopeful writer, or apathy (perhaps a shade worse than an angry parent, since at least an angry parent can become an actor in some imaginary tale while apathy is never very interesting).

On dealing with his first serious critic, " my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk." (p. 47) Why is it teachers are usually at the forefront of tearing apart student ambitions?

"Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." (p. 98)

I remember in my youth, perhaps late teens, my opinion of Stephen King changing for the negative. It was not because of some poorly written novel or an insult carried to me through his words. It was this series of short parts of a book that seemed to be dished out in such a way as to maximize the cost of what would otherwise be a normal novel of normal cost. Perhaps being poor, I felt like it was a slap in the face of fans who were financially challenged. Since then I haven't read anything of his. So, this book really is the first I've read of his in more than twenty years. Time flies! I think he's been buying $25 novels for so long that he's mostly forgotten his nickle and dime days.

This book makes me think of my own writing journey: a failure, not a success, naturally. The closest I've come is four illustrated books with the originals where? I have no clue: perhaps in a garbage bag well taken care of by a cousin. Perhaps at the bottom of some landfill never to be found again. So it seems I must begin again. I'm forty. I guess it's not too late. But the burning desire to make it happen isn't as keen as it once was, and what's worse, the faith in myself for making it happen is gone.

You may wonder where plot is in all this.  The answer--my answer, anyway--is nowhere. I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning: and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. (p. 156)
 I think this is an interesting point. Not because it's right or because it's wrong. Because it's both and neither. Considering the huge collection of material related to Tolkien's LOTR. Tolkien's son, Christopher, discovered a huge trunk filled with notes, sketches, and the like, of the most remarkable fantasy fiction I have ever read. I am not trying to say that King is inferior at all. Far from it. King is a fantastic writer, but more importantly, he is different. He brings a different approach to story telling than Tolkien. OK, I do like Tolkien better than King. I also like pizza better than spaghetti. But it doesn't mean I want to eat pizza every day. In fact, it's probably not great for my health. I'm not saying that King is good for my health, my point is that diversity in diet is important both for the sanity of my palette and my health. King is not junk. He is an excellent writer and probably ranks in the top 20 or 30 authors of the 20th century in my estimation (I really should make a list). I understand that Rowling's Harry Potter series were well plotted before they were written, but I will freely admit that I would choose King of Rowling. Not that my opinion is worth two cents to anyone but myself, but the point is that his style is a part of what makes his writing unique. And his style doesn't necessarily mean that people who plot are going to be better than him. Let's just say that some that plot are better, while others not.

... stories are found things, like fossils in the ground... (p. 156)
  This may be true for King. But of course, some people are much better at finding fossils than others. Furthermore, many people have a great deal of training and art behind their digging. But that might very well be his point. He finds the fossils, can recognize them, and hacks away at them using his particular style.

He avoids adverbs. It makes me wonder how often adverbs show themselves in my own writing. I know they're there, but certainly not so many that it would harm his sensibilities in any way.

There is a section that is devoted to the typical how to and how not to become some kind of writer. This is the kind of book I was expecting. Another one of those. Fortunately it is short and it isn't too painful: mostly a rehash of the same stuff that I have read many times before. Perhaps the kind of kick in the pants to get me back to the habit. Submitting these stories there: that's the devil that's always plagued me. I hate submitting to anything.

King ends off describing the near life-ending accident he had. He is both lucky and unlucky. He is lucky that the man who hit him stopped and helped him, waited with him, while help was on its way. He is unlucky that the man hit him. The man who almost killed him is also the man who saved his life. Why did he stop? Why did he help him? Was he afraid of a murder charge or was he genuinely more concerned about King getting through the accident alive? I can't blame King for not seeing that. If I had gone through the same experience, it is unlikely that I would be objective. Had Bryan Smith been one of those actual King villains, surely he would have taken him home and mended him just well enough to keep him alive.

Honestly, this is the best writer's book I've ever read. It really does belong on the top of those types of books. Not because it's going to help me become a successful writer, but because for the time I spent reading it, I kind of got a share in the feeling of what it must be like to be a successful writer. It's that telekinetic connection he wrote of I guess.

I hope I will spend the time to do the assignment he mentioned. I will do it. Or die procrastinating on it.