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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Weird Love: That's the Way I Like It (Humor) (Graphic Novels)

by Various (Author), Bob Powell (Artist), Bill Ward (Artist), Ogden Whitney (Artist)
Publisher: IDW Publishing (December 29, 2015)Hardcover, 168 pages
Amazon Listing 

“The vast majority of the stories were written, drawn, and edited by men- middle-aged men, at that - and many of those stories were, indeed, readable, just as the more than 7,000 romance pulps produced from the 1920s to the 1950s were readable. But they weren’t read by the boys and men who made up most of the first generation of comics fandom. They were read almost entirely by post-pubescent girls and young women, who weren’t noted for saving comics but were very much aware how much they were beginning to seek love in their lives. Indeed, my guess is that romance comics were among those most frequently passed around by young readers. But they were seldom saved.” 
                  Michelle Nolan- from the introduction.
This is a collection of twenty old-time romance stories from the silver age of comics. It is easy to forget that romance comics, like westerns, were a viable comic genre on par with war and superheroes. In fact, when the genre was created by Kirby and Simon, superheroes were the weak sister of the comic world.
Most of the stories are not from Marvel and DC, indeed those two had not come into full dominance of the comic market and had to compete with the likes of Harvey, Charleton, Archie Comics Group (ACG) and so on. What stands out to me, and as is pointed out in the introduction is that romance comics, once flourishing, are incredibly rare to find. I’ve been to many many comic conventions and shops, dug through thousands of long boxes- from cheapo 25 cent racks to high dollar encased-in-carbonite issues- and never run across a single one. Never. They just weren’t collected by those people who built the market. And probably I would’ve never thought to buy one if I had.  
The nature of these stories cover the 1950s to the early 1970s and vary in style, The earlier ones are more action oriented with titles such as “Love Slaves” or “Stay Away from Married Men”. Probably because those who wrote such stories didn’t know exactly how to relay a purely romance tale. As the decades rolled on, however, the stories changed to almost silly tales directly relatable to the target audience. Most of the characters are around the same age as their readers and have “relatable” issues- mostly about boys and fitting in. As exampled in the stories “Too Fat to Frug” - Frug is a type of dance from the 60s you perverts - and “A Monster’s Kisses” - about a newlywed who can’t stand her husband’s new beard.
Two standouts among these are “Men You Shouldn’t Marry” from Romantic Adventures # 11, which gives some good advice on types of guys to avoid. And “Heart Clinic” which discusses how our attitude to love and what makes a good mate changes and matures over time. Like the others you can take these stories with the campiness that they have become, as well. Perhaps they were camp back in the 50s, and 60s, and 70s, but they must’ve been devoured by their readership. Now camp value and our laughter will keep them from being forgotten forever.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Insiders: The Red Prince (Action) (Graphic Novel)

by Jean-Claude Bartoll (Author), Renaud Garreta (Artist) 

Publisher: Cinebook, Ltd (June 5, 2018)

Softcover, 59 pages

Amazon Listing 

This is a series of graphic novels that are easily defined as action thrillers. A Chechen terrorist is recruited by the CIA to infiltrate a cabal of industrialists who secretly finance the destabilization of areas in order to profit from the exploitation of that area’s resources. The insider rises to the top of the food chain in a series of violent confrontations and explosions. Does she complete her mission by the CIA or does she join the enemy?
Despite the bouts of violence, this is an intelligent work, rich in political and economic motives for its antagonists. None of the villains are “just evil”, they all have rational motivation, i.e. intense greed. The art well done with attention paid to realistic equipment, weapons, and machinery. But you have to pay attention to the plot and dialogue or you might be easily lost.

       Sam Nachez, boss of bosses of the global mafia, and the man that Najah is both supposed to protect and betray to the authorities, is on the run after a coup by one of his rivals. Hunted by killers from the Russian, Chinese and American intelligence services, the two of them are rapidly running out of allies. Will Najah be able to reconcile her various loyalties? In order to survive, she will have to take the biggest gamble of her life...
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Burroughs File (William Burroughs)

by William S. Burroughs

Publisher: City Lights Publishers (January 1, 2001)

Softcover, 227 pages

Amazon Listing

“The purposes of Bodhisattva and an artist are different and perhaps not reconcilable. Show me a good Buddhist novelist. When Huxley got Buddhism, he stopped writing novels and wrote Buddhist tracks. Meditation, astral travel, telepathy are all means to an end for the novelist. I even got copy out of scientology. It’s a question of emphasis. Any writer who does not consider his writing the most important thing he does, who does not consider writing his only salvation, I - ‘I trust him little in the commerce of the soul.’ As the French say, pas serieux.”
This is a collection of short pieces (mostly experimental fiction) from William S. Burroughs published in various indie magazines (nearly all of which are now defunct) over the course of the sixties and seventies.  Along with that is a selection of pages from his cut-up scrap books, which are works of art unto themselves - a full color books of just those scrapbooks needs to be printed. As well as selections from a diary he kept of his dream while on a retreat.
Author William S. Burroughs
As I mentioned above, this is mostly experimental fiction. Throughout much of the works the cut-up technique is used to generate material. As such, don’t expect much coherency from the text. It’s best to let it wash over you and individual images will pop up, emerging from a jumbled stew. Most of the time, the text reads like radio static.
Part of it seems to have been recycled into or adjacent to the author’s Nova Trilogy as many of the same characters of mentions. While the dream sections might’ve ended up in his weakest book, My Education: A Book of Dreams. Whether you like or hate this is up to the reader, but if you’re interested in this title at all means you’re probably a Burroughs’s fanatic, so I’ll just shut up.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Cursed From Birth: The Short Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs Jr.

by William S. Burroughs Jr. (author), & David Ohle (Editor)  

Publisher: Soft Skull Press (October 1, 2006)

Softcover, 256 pages

Amazon Listing

“Did you answer a four-year-old child whose mother you had just murdered when he asked, ‘Where are you going?’ And I have news for you, pal, two things, as far as you and I are concerned, you have signed my death warrant. For a well-known “perceptive” man you have got to be the blindest mother going, and (2) yes it is a question of the $500. You don’t impress me a bit with all that ‘be careful’ bullshit. You could care less, and your fucking wallet is full of blood. All my life I have tried to experience you as something approaching a human being. By god in heaven, you blew it if you think a car is what’s behind this and I know you do, you only prove my point.”  
Unsent letter from William S. Burroughs Jr. to his father.
This is a hybrid novel made from an unfinished work by William S. Burroughs Jr. (originally called Prakiti Junction), interviews with his father, Allen Ginsberg, and various other friends, plus a host of correspondence to and from the author. In it, we get a snapshot of a chronically unhappy person, a serial substance abuser, a slightly successful author, and one who felt himself always in the shadow of his more famous father. That patriarchal figure being the illustrious William Burroughs of Naked Lunch fame.
William Burroughs Jr. 

Cobbled together as it is from a host of unreliable narrators, we can only get a sliver of the truth behind his life. The facts all line up, but motivations are blurred. The tensions between father and son seem to be due to a lack of communication and that seems to stem from neither of them realizing that someone else could have a different point of view. I may be wrong in this, but both were heavy substance abusers and both seemed to have the “me-me-me” characteristics commonly associated with alcoholics and junkies. Or at least the son certainly did. He seemed to possess an infantile belief that everyone should be working harder to make life easier for them.
Not that he didn't have legitimate gripes. His father shot his mother in the head when he was four, then dumped him at his grandparents- which was probably for the best. However, the author seems to use it as an excuse to do nothing with his life.
Burroughs Jr is one of those authors who is incapable of writing about anything except themselves. As such, certain portions of the text here is repeated in his other books Speed and Kentucky Ham. This is in direct contrast to his father who will expound on his opinions, but never his emotions - except here.
William Burroughs Jr & his grandfather, Mortimer Burroughs

This book gives us a new vision of Burroughs Sr.. Many claim he had no real emotional connection to his son, but that doesn't seem to be entirely true. He helped his son financially, but in the long run his son refused to help himself. Burroughs Sr. himself stated he had no idea what to do.
Perhaps the most telling letter is the final one between Burroughs Sr. and Brion Gysin. In it he mentions his son's death in the first paragraph in a matter-of-fact manner then goes into a page describing future writings and readings he has planned. This can be taken several ways. A callousness on part of the father, or a sort of relief to a long and suffering person. William S. Burroughs Jr. died at 33 of liver failure (after receiving a liver transplant).
    For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Revised Boy Scout Manual: An Electronic Revolution (William Burroughs)

By William S. Burroughs

Publisher: Ohio State University Press (September 10, 2018)

Softcover, 144 pages

Amazon Listing

“The definite article THE. THE contains the universe of one and only: THE God, THE universe, THE way, THE right, THE wrong. If there is another, then THAT universe, THAT way is no longer, THE universe, THE way. The definite article THE will be deleted and the indefinite article A will take its place.”
Just when I think I’ve gotten all of the collected works of William S. Burroughs another one pops up. This manual is a bit of a Frankenstein project, as it has existed in various forms and under different titles, and in different mediums. At times the story of how this book was constructed is more interesting than the actual material by Burroughs. This “definitive” version is cobbled together from eight different print sources and the transcripts from three 90 minute tapes called either The Revised Boy Scout Manual or An Electronic Revolution, along with a few paragraphs originally published in The Job.
Of the 144 pages, only 73 make up the titular work. The rest are academic justification on choosing this word or that from the various different manuscripts written by Burroughs. It also includes transcripts of the three cassettes by Burroughs. The changes between versions is often minor, a word here or there, but there are occasional
When I stated that at times the material isn’t interesting, that’s because I’ve read much of it before, or a variation of it before. His opinions on various subjects and hatred of the power struggle in Western Democracy is well documented - though I think that most of it was directed at the fact that he couldn’t legally shoot up. If he was granted the right to be high all the time, then much of the venom in this text would have evaporated.
Ostensibly, this is a manual to discuss becoming a terrorist (or “radical”) and proper action to take to destroy the system. As per usual in a Burroughs book, it degenerates into revenge and sex fantasies, then blathers on about some cut-up sound techniques to affect reality and drive people in a certain direction. Much of this has been stated by him before in other books. As such, perhaps the first thirty pages of the book is the most interesting.
David Bowie and William S. Burroughs
The title is a variation of The Boy Scout Manual, which is a take on what is considered the most wholesome activity a young boy could indulge in back in the day. The original book describes many Scout-like virtues and qualifications. After a lengthy section on what a Scout should know, including chivalry, history, and national issues, it is noted that "in short, to be a good Scout is to be a well-developed, well-informed boy."
Whether this is meant to be a serious work is a lightly debated topic on those who read Burroughs. Whether he meant it to or not, it’s completely impractical and thus doesn’t matter. As usual, he shows his love for the pseudo-science of L. Ron Hubbard and Wilhelm Reich, so much of his “combat” techniques are mired in their insanity. Who knows if he believed it? Perhaps in his more drug addled moments it all seemed plausible, but if so, he certainly took none of the actions discussed in this book while sober. However the emotions behind the words are most certainly authentic.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Peter Milligan (writer) & Colin Lorimer (illustrator)  

Publisher: Titan Books (November 13, 2018). 

Softcover, 112 pages

Amazon Listing  

“In the 21st Century, the global currency is no longer oil or gold but information. And he who possess it, possess the world. There is one place on the planet where the most valuable information is mind, a place that prides itself on ‘mental fracking’, promising to extract any secret from any individual using any means possible.
“It is perhaps the intelligence community’s darkest secret, aligned to no one political system or state, an autonomous institute, free of state manipulation. The identity of its controller, the mysterious Number One, is unknown. It is a place so secret, some believe it to be a myth. It is the Village…”
This book is what you might call a soft reboot of the The Prisoner series. It is ostensibly in the same universe as the TV series, but doesn’t mention the original series at all, except for some vague references. “Only one man managed to escape The Village, and he went mad.” Luckily, it is only a four-issue limited series, because (as with all other media connected to the 1960s series) it will be of interest only to those who liked the original.

Despite that, there were some things which the series did right. The redefinition of the Village and its aims, at least those aims on the surface, is very timely and feels correct. Certainly most of their activities revolved around extracting information. And they reveal the identity of Number One, the mysterious leader of the Village organization. In this version, it is something very different  from what we see in the final episode, Fall Out, of the 60s series, but perhaps that is what the book meant by the original protagonist going mad. What they came up with was a little clich├ęd, but still interesting in its presentation.
Essentially the plot is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold meets the Village. A spy attempts to be snatched up by the Village and succeeds. He wakes up in the odd surroundings of the Village, as the new Number 6. The rest is your standard Prisoner fare of oddity, double takes, take backs, back-stabs and retreads where everything in the protagonist’s life is tossed into question. Where it is different is that this Number 6 is not made of as stern stuff as is the original, which leads to an incredibly satisfying ending.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Prisoner: The Prisoner's Dilemma (Science Fiction)

by Jonathan Blum & Rupert Booth

Publisher: Powys Media; First Edition edition (March 31, 2005)
Softcover, 327 pages

Amazon Listing

“I can still believe, my dear Juliet, in the world I see coming from my work here, even while doubting the motives of the people allowing that work. For me, what matters is the input and output as I’ve determined them. The process by which one produces the other, inside the black box, I can draw a veil over as necessary; chalk it up to the mysteries of human intelligence. But Number 6 is the opposite; to him it is all about the integrity of the process, of the why.”

This is a return to form for The Prisoner fans, those who loved the 1960s show starring Patrick McGoohan. A secret agent resigns, goes home and is gassed, only to wake up later in a place called The Village where everyone is assigned a number. It is a faux model community where everyone dresses alike, and it is impossible for a prisoner to tell who the warders are. There, the newly dubbed Number 6 is subject to multiple tortures to get to him to state why he resigned, with the ultimate goal of converting him to their cause. 

However only fans of the show would enjoy this book, or fully appreciate it, as there are multiple references to episodes of the show (none overt) and several characters (besides the Butler) make brief appearances. The action takes place before the final episode and focuses especially on the use of psychological game theory by the Village authorities against the prisoners, and a new prediction computer who uses such theory to give a varied predictions on each prisoner’s actions.
The prisoner's dilemma is a standard example of game theory that shows why two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It is presented as follows:
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:
•If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves two years in prison
•If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison (and vice versa)
•If A and B both remain silent, both of them will serve only one year in prison (on the lesser charge).

It is implied that the prisoners will have no opportunity to reward or punish their partner other than the prison sentences they get and that their decision will not affect their reputation in the future. Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners will betray the other, meaning the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray when they would get a better individual reward if they both kept silent.
And essentially this is the plot of the novel in a nutshell. Game theory seems to fit the series of The Prisoner like a glove. There have been three Prisoner novels in the past, but these were written in the 1960s, and were cheaply rushed out. None had the proper feel to them. This was obviously written by authors who grew up on the show, was an absolute fan, and worked hard to make sure to do a proper appendage to the show. And they succeeded, the book feels like a prisoner episode. The only other one that came close was the graphic novel, The Prisoner: Shattered Visage.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Hellraiser: The Dark Watch Volume 3 (Horror) (Graphic Novel)

by Clive Barker  (Author), Brandon Seifert  (Author), Tom Garcia (Illustrator, Artist), Janusz Ordon (Artist)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios (October 22, 2014)
Softcover, 142 pages
A horror series which goes hand in hand with the films. It’s amazing how one short story “The Hell Bound Heart” made into a film, turned into such an enduring horror franchise. This volume collects CLIVE BARKER'S HELLRAISER: THE DARK WATCH #9-12, and CLIVE BARKER'S HELLRAISER ANNUAL 2013. I haven’t read the previous two volumes, but I could follow the action reasonably well. I’m not sure if that’s to the story’s benefit or detriment. You decide. 
For those who don’t know, the series’ storyline focuses on a puzzle box that opens a gateway to the Hell-like realm of the Cenobites, an order of formerly human monsters who harvest human souls to torture in sadistic experiments. It is not a pleasant comic, nor one that fills a person with hope.
It is essentially a story of the body horror genre, and as much as I doubted they could, the comic created just as much nausea and disgust as the films. The art, while not the most detailed, is still a grotesque ride. I think it’s the constant use to human heads on monster bodies that really puts it over the edge. 
In this story, classic Pinhead, Elliot Spencer, and the new female Pinhead, Kirsty Cotton, finally get to see which is supreme when the pair must battle and team up in Hell. WHAT IT'S ABOUT: One must volunteer, or Hell will choose for itself. The two most recent Hell Priests are missing Kirsty Cotton and Elliott Spencer have abdicated their thrones, and there is someone new in their place: Harry D'Amour. 
As the former detective tries to adjust to his new life, he is besieged by constant assassination attempts by other Cenobites while his former human allies fight amongst themselves. Meanwhile, as soldiers from other dimensions encroach upon the Labyrinth, D'Amour is going to have to raise an army, whether he likes it or not, as the Lords of the other pits strike to invade the Labyrinth.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

The King in the Golden Mask (Historical Fiction)

by Marcel Schwob; Kit Schluter (translator, foreword)

Publisher: Wakefield Press; First Edition (May 23, 2017)

Softcover, 176 pages

Amazon Listing 

“At that time, the human race was close to perishing. The orb of the sun was as close as the moon. An endless winter caused the soil to crack. The mountains which had erupted, spewing the earth’s flaming entrails into the sky, were now grey with frozen lava. The lands were riveted by parallel or starry trenches; tremendous crevasses, suddenly yawning, engulfed the things above as they collapsed, and one could see, moving toward them in heavy sideslips, long queues of glacial erratics. The dark air was sequenced with transparent needles; a sinister whiteness hung over the land; the  universal silver glow seemed to sterilize the world.” 

-         The Death of Odjigh

Marcel Schwob is not a name well known in modern literary terms- I have no idea why- yet he is one of the most vivid writers of the later half of nineteenth century French writers. He has been called a "precursor of Surrealism", which I cannot disagree with.   
In addition to over a hundred short stories, he wrote articles, essays, biographies, literary analysis, and plays. He was extremely well known and respected during his life and notably befriended a great number of intellectuals and artists of the time. Yet, he is all but forgotten…. But not completely. 
Marcel Schwob
Luckily, much of his work is being “rediscovered” and translated into English. Once again this prompts me to learn French with a greater intensity, as I’m worried about how much great material I’m missing, because this is the first time this collection of short stories has been translated into English- and the book was originally published in 1892. The 21 stories in this collection are primarily dark, grim tales, with mostly unpleasant endings. They range from slight fantasy, to grim modern, to slightly sci-fi. 
The stories are a cruel, almost sadistic, telling of characters trapped in an unforgiving world. The narration is cold, matter-of-fact, or lusty in thick details (as we see above). What will happen to his characters is up in the air, with a fifty-fifty shot that the protagonists will survive. Each paragraph is charged with poetic energy, placing him on par with Ambrose Bierce or H. P. Lovecraft. I consider it almost a crime, he hasn’t been translated into English before. 
The style of the stories are a little odd. Most of the material in it build-up to an event which then happens quickly, leading to a hasty end. Let’s say for a ten page story, eight is mostly exposition. In fact, several of them almost seem to be completely background material for a larger story, which the author never wrote, or should have written. Still, it is so beautifully composed that I don’t care that much and simply enjoy the ride. 
The translator writes that Marcel Schowb didn’t believe in originality, and several of the stories are recycled plots from classical sources or historical events, but this worked in the author’s favor. Like Shakespeare, by not having to focus on plot, the author is free to focus all his creative energies on his style. And it works out for the best.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.