You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Shinichi's problems continue in a series that shows signs of slowing down. The best part of Vol V is an extended chase and fight sequence with five aliens inhabiting a single body. The storytelling is cinematic, with the characters' parasitic components allowing them to swing through trees and grab hold of speeding trucks.

Satomi, Shinichi's supposed girlfriend, must be trying for the "most-long-suffering-girlfriend-in Japan" award. If I were her I would be more concerned with the dead bodies that turn up in his vicinity.

An interesting linguistic note: When characters are startled they may say either "eep" or "eek." I wonder if there is some subtle difference in Japanese.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Late at night on November 7, I fell and badly sprained my ankle. It hurt like hell.

By the afternoon of November 8 I was periodically soaking it in a bucket of ice water and taking the hydrocodone my doctor had prescribed.

Sitting with my foot elevated, only mildly bothered by the pain, and feeling generally pretty good, I decided to read Anna Karenina. It was an excellent choice. The hydrocodone lasted only four days and it took me over a week to read the book, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

For the past couple of years I have been reading a lot of science fiction and crime. I've enjoyed most of what I've read. I've been genuinely impressed by much of it, but you know, just a few pages into Tolstoy's novel I remembered it is hard to beat masterpieces of nineteenth literature when it comes to storytelling and characters. Especially the characters.

Characters in science fiction are in service to the author's idea. (I read a lot of Philip K. Dick.) And when most science fiction writers think they a developing fully rounded characters they a just scratching the surface. It could be that since those characters have to act out their stories in imaginary worlds, their interactions with those worlds cannot be as complexly realized as the actions of characters in realistic fiction. Crime novels satisfy my innate, pessimistic worldview, and you get to know some really horrible people, but I don't care what happens to these people. I am only curious to see whether or not they will get their comeuppance, and if the novel is good, I am satisfied either way.

But in Anna Karenina I remembered what it was like to live with characters. When Kitty's pregnancy stretched past nine months, I feared the worst. When Anna was snubbed at the opera, I thought she should have seen it coming. When Levin went out to mow with the farmers, I hoped he wouldn't make a total ass of himself.

Now I have my eye on The Red and the Black. I've already read War and Peace and I think it would take more than a sprained ankle along with stronger drugs to get me settled down forThe Brothers Karamazov. I am also reading a 1970's novel by Ramsey Campbell called The Doll that Ate His Mother. The life of the mind goes on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This is not going to be a easy to write as I thought. I had my first line all planned out and can still use it.

"Of course her real name is not Poppy Z. Brite. It's a pseudonym used by Melissa Ann Brite, born May 25, 1967 in New Orleans, Louisiana."

I got that much by glancing at Brite's Wikipedia entry. But  further down the page I picked up this bit of information: "Brite is a transgender man, born biologically female. He has written and talked much about his gender dysphoria/gender identity issues.[3] He self-identifies with gay males, and as of August 2010, has begun the process of gender reassignment. "

That I didn't know, but it goes some ways towards explaining why almost all of Brite's male characters, whether they are vampires, musicians, artists, drug dealers, or serial killers tend to be gay men.

An early publicity photo.
You don't want to know what she's thinking.
When I decided to read some horror fiction, I thought I would start with Brite because I had heard the novels were good, moody, sexy, and very bloody. She, as I thought at the time, represented the new generation of horror writers, steeping the novels in a gothic punk atmosphere the no other writer at the time -- the early 1990's -- had explored. Although she wrote stand alone novels, some characters and settings reappeared, creating a world of the supernatural and the grotesque that alternated between Missing Mile, North Carolina and New Orleans. (I love that name, Missing Mile.)

Brite's horror publishing career lasted only half a decade and produced three novels and two volumes of short stories. His first novel, Lost Souls, he began while still a teenager. When his last horror novel, Exquisite Corpse came out in 1996,  he was 29. Brite then turned to writing comic novels centered around the New Orleans restaurant scene. For the past several years, he as been on an official hiatus from writing at all. But I think with Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Exquisite Corpse Brite has left a significant legacy in the horror genre. (I have not read the short stories.)

 Lost Souls is a lushly over-written, almost plotless tale of vampires traveling the country in what must be a very smelly van given their sloppy feeding habits. Their handsome leader, Zillah, keeps things somewhat under control with his more party-minded friends Molochai and Twig. They meet up with a confused, not yet out of the vampire closet fifteen-year old named Nothing. Nothing and Zillah almost instantly hit the sack,. In a scene that involves killing his best friend, Nothing learns he is a vampire. Later he learns that Zillah, due to a one night stand in New Orleans many years ago, is his father, a fact that does not put a crimp in the sexual activity. They hang out in Missing Mile, NC, which is a much hipper place than it sounds. They seduce some people, they kill some people, they meet up with an old friend from New Orleans and relocate. There they get involved with some other kinky types -- there's no point in going any further with this. Brite's enthusiastic prose keeps things happening if not exactly moving in any particular direction. It's fun, although long.

Poppy Z. Brite is now Billy Martin
Drawing Blood returns to Missing Mile where the sole survivor of a family massacre returns twenty years later to confront family ghosts. He meets up with a computer hacker on the run from the feds and guess what, they spend almost all their time in bed -- or on the floor or in the shower. They are at the age when erections are so hard they ache. If the traditional horror audience of 16 to 25 year old males actually read this book, things have changed. Or maybe that demographic only applies to horror movies and not horror fiction. Drawing Blood is a haunted house story of sorts, with lots of rock and roll, gay sex, and mushroom ingestion. It is also a romance with a happy romance ending that I personally thought was out of place, but I suspect Brite, or at least his publishers, know their audience.

And what to make of Exquisite Corpse? Brite says his original publishers turned it down because it was too extreme. They would have had a point. The descriptions of necrophilia, torture, and cannibalism are like nothing in the previous novels. The book has at least a couple of images that unfortunately will most likely always be with me. But her publishers might also rightly have considered this novel something of a mess. HIV and AIDS are prominent elements in the story, and perhaps the serial killers are meant to represent the death sentence the disease was considered at the time. This is Brite's best writing. The grotesque sex is like the Marquis de Sade minus all the frou-frou. or Georges Baitaille without the pretension. What ever was intended, Exquisite Corpse might best be considered grand guignol fun. It is also a book I would never recommend to anybody I know, fearing recriminations.

Brite's three novels are quickly becoming period pieces, and you have to find them squeezed onto the shelves surrounded by all the paranormal romance and zombie crap that dominates the field. I like to imagine some unsuspecting Laura K. Hamilton fan will pick up Exquisite Corpse and live to regret it.

Read my reviews of individual Poppy Z. Brite novels on Worlds Without End

Sunday, November 20, 2011

BOOK REIVEW:SINEATER by Elizabeth Massie

I picked this up because it was on the Horror Writers' Association list of horror must-reads. I have always been a pro-horror film voice, but was never attracted to reading horror novels. Movies are over in 90 minutes. Novels takes hours and hours. And I also had the not-uncommon prejudice against the genre, or at least against anything written much later than the turn of the 20th century.

But I liked Sineater. I guess it's a horror novel, although I wondered if Massie's publisher didn't promote it as a genre book so it would not get lost in mid-list literary fiction. It's really a pretty good coming-of-age story set in a grotesque situation. If there is such a thing as the Hillbilly Anti-Defamation League, I am sure this book is on its radar. One lesson I took away from it was to fill up the car with gas before driving through Virginia and don't make any stops. These people are crazy.

Sineaters, a tradition that made it to the states from Scotland and Wales, are outsiders, shunned by the community but necessary to its functioning. They appear at wakes and eat a light meal prepared for them by the grieving family and placed on the corpse of the recently deceased loved one. The meal is the sins of the one who has passed on, and by consuming it the sineater assures their soul will go to heaven. No one must ever look on his face.

Avery Barker is an unusual sineater. He is married to the woman he loved before he took up his profession, and although even she must never look on his face, that have managed to have three children. Joel Avery, the youngest son, is the central character, the first Avery allowed to attend school. His only friend was the son of the liberal Methodist minister who has recently moved his family to a parish outside Washington, D.C. Joel's potential new friend is a very different sort of person. Burke Campbell is a skinny, angry redhead sent to live with his religious nut aunt after her daughter has gone missing. Burke's friendly overtures to Joel involve shooting him the finger every time he sees him in the halls at school.

Sineeater is not the gorefest I assumed contemporary horror novels to be. The story is long and leisurely Southern Gothic with lots of character development and one moment so repulsive that I made that pledge about never getting out the car in Virginia.

(Below is a sineater currently plying his/her(?) trade in the Baltic states.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


... their next principle was that man brings with him into the world a peculiar portion or grain of wind... This quintessence is of a catholic use upon all emergencies of life, is improveable into all arts and sciences, and may be wonderfully refined as well as enlarged by certain methods in education. This, when blown up to to its perfection, ought not to be covetously hoarded up, stifled, or hid under a bushel, but freely communicated to mankind. Upon these reasons and others of equal weight, [they] affirm the gift of BELCHING to be the noblest act of a rational creature. To cultivate which art and render it more serviceable to mankind, they made use of several methods. At certain seasons of the year, your might behold them, ... in several hundreds linked together in a circular chain, with every man a pair of bellows applied to another man's breech, by which they blew each other up to the shape and size of a tun;....  When by these and the  like performances they were grown sufficiently replete, they would immediately depart and disembogue for the public good a plentiful share of their acquirements into their disciples' chaps. For we must here observe that all learning was esteemed among them to be composed of the same principle. Because first, it is generally affirmed, or confessed, that learning puffeth men up; and, secondly, they proved it by the following syllogism. Words are but wind, and learning is nothing but words; ergo, learning is nothing but wind...wherein they had acquired a wonderful eloquence, and of incredible variety. But the great characteristic by which their chief sages were distinguished, was a certain position of countenance, which gave undoubted intelligence to what degree or proportion the spirit agitated the inward mass. For after certain gripings, the wind and vapours issuing forth, having first by their turbulence and convulsions within caused an earthquake in man's little world, bloated the cheeks, and gave the eyes a terrible kind of relievo. At which juncture, all their belches were received for sacred, the sourer the better, and swallowed with infinite consolation by their meagre devotees.

MANGA MANIA: MW by Osamu Tezuka

This is by the creator of Astro Boy?

I read that later in life, Tezuka wanted to do something with a more adult theme than the work he was best known for. "More adult" in this case does not mean more emotionally or morally complex. It is simply outrageous, blissfully disdainful of credibility, and full of sex -- hetero-, homo-, and bestial. It is also over 500 pages long, but I suppose all those manga that come in installments are this long or longer. Still it is an intimidating tome.

Michio Yuki is a ten-year-old kidnap victim held prisoner in a cave on a Japanese island. He and his teenage captor make love that one night together. ("You're as pretty as a girl," the older boy keeps saying.) The next morning, everyone on the island is dead, due to the leak of a poison gas, the titular MW, stored there by Country X. (Now who could that be?) Yuki and his captor/boyfriend have escaped because of the altitude of their cave hideout. But tiny Yuki. it turns out, is short enough to inhale enough of the residual gas to lose any sense of morality. 

Jump twenty or so years forward. Yuki is a strikingly handsome assistant bank manager by day and notoriously violent kidnapper on his off hours. His childhood captor, sorry I forget his original name and don't have the book in front of me, has become a Catholic priest named Father Garais. Yuki, knowing that what is said in the confessional cannot be repeated, confesses on a regular basis to Father Garais, They also have frequent sexual liaisons. Father Garais suffers spiritually but never turns down a roll in the hay with the still quite fetching Yuki. Yuki can also pose as a woman -- his family has a history of playing female roles in the Kabuki theater -- and seduces and murders his way to the top of the banking and political machine of modern Tokyo. His plan all along is to discover where the MW gas has been relocated and use it to destroy all life on earth. He is slowing dying from the low level MW contact he had years before, and wants to take the whole world with him. This kid wrote the book on nihilism.

MW is an entertaining farrago of sex and violence. Having it all in one, chunky volume made me feel like I was reading the worst, or maybe the best, Harold Robbins novel ever written.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

MANGA MANIA: MPD PSYCHO VOL 1 by Eiji Otsuka and Sho-u Tajima

Nutty and outrageous. The hero is a police detective with multiple personality disorder who is convicted of a string a killings while he was not himself, or rather while he was one of his more violent selves. After what seemed like a surprisingly short prison term, he is hired by a policewoman friend to set up a detective agency specializing in profiling killers. In this first installment the bad guy is a world-renowned architect with a passion for kidnapping beautiful women and planting flowers in their brains while they are still alive. Given the roller coaster pacing of the series it would be rude to question exactly how this is done.

Takishi Miike, that Japanese movie-making machine, did at least two TV episodes based loosely on this series. Reviews of the DVD's complain that the gore sequences have been pixilated out of the prints, I suppose in deference to the TV censors. But since one of the episodes involves a killer who cuts the fetuses from pregnant women, I surprised that is was on TV to begin with. I like to imagine a Japanese mom calling out, "Hurry kids. Dinner is ready and MPD Psycho is about to start!"



"Anyhow, Pete Garden, you were psychotic and drunk and on amphetamines and hallucinating, but basically you perceived the reality that confronts us..." 

PKD must have dreamed that any one of his five wives or several girlfriends would one day sit across the breakfast table and speak those words to him. I don't know that he was ever psychotic, that term was tossed around differently in the 1960's than it would be today. But drunk and on amphetamines,? Yes. Hallucinating? During the time he was writing this novel PKD walked daily from his home to his "writing shack" about a mile down the road. In the blue, Northern California sky, he saw a gigantic malevolent face. "It was immense, it filled like a quarter of the sky. It had empty slots for eyes -- it was metal and cruel and, worst of all, it was God." An Episcopal priest PKD consulted suggested it was a vision of Satan. Whatever the case, it didn't go away for days. So, I think that is another "yes" for hallucinating. 

In Game Players of Titan, earth has been dealt a double blow. As per usual with Dick, there has been an atomic war, this one started by the Red Chinese using a new weapon developed in East Germany. (Nice period details, there.) The radiation released by the new weapon sterilizes the populations it is directed against, but wind currents being what they are, the Red Chinese have inadvertently almost completely sterilized the human race. To add insult to injury, beings from Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, have invaded and conquered earth. They are the Vugs, oversized amoebas that sound a bit like Al Capp's Shmoo. Humans find them irritating and keep Vug sticks on hand for pushing them out of rooms. But the Vugs are, in their way, benevolent landlords. Longevity drugs allow humans to live into their hundreds while never looking much over 30 or 40 years of age. With earth's population in the low millions, lucky humans are Bindmen, property owners whose properties include towns, cities, and vast swathes of the depopulated planet. If you are a Bindman you must also play the Titans' game. 

The Titans' game seems like nothing more than a rudimentary board game, a simplified form of Monopoly but with all your landholdings at stake. Peter Garden's loss of Berkeley in the first chapter of the book sets in motion events that will involve murder, interplanetary travel, telekinesis, ESP, and large quantities of alcohol and amphetamines. 

Along with Berkeley, Garden loses his current wife, but acquires a new one that same night. Another purpose of the game is to keep reshuffling human couples in hopes of finding those who can still "get lucky," the current term for becoming pregnant. Garden's spectacular bender that takes up much of the book occurs when he discovers that with his new wife he has gotten lucky for the first time and on their first night. He ingests every pill in the house and starts hitting the bars. What he discovers are conspiracies within conspiracies, Vug infiltration of his closest friends, and a offer to play the ultimate game to decide the fate of the earth. 

Game Players of Titan is PKD really hitting his stride. It is a masterpiece of paranoia, where no one can be trusted to be who they claim to be, where rules are made to be broken, and the protagonist must bluff his way through a game that he knows is a deadly sham. And how do you go about bluffing if half the people in the room can read your mind? The fact that PKD works out a method implies that he had spent for too much energy in his personal life dealing with just barely more earthbound versions of these same issues. And remember that every morning, on his walk to his typewriter, he must endure the glaring, empty eyes of a malevolent god. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


ambages, circuitous, roundabout ways

atrementous, black as ink

bait, to stop for rest and refreshment

boutade, a sudden motion,  like a kick from a horse's hind legs

butter weight, good measure, 18 or more ounces to the pound

cockle, the weed corn cockle, whose seeds had to be sifted out of the seed corn; the task gave rise to several proverbs

cully, a simpleton, gull

ends, shoemakers' threads pointed with bristles

exploded, clapped or hissed off the stage

garnish, money extracted from a gaoler for better treatment, particularly allowing light manacles, or freedom of movement within the prison

gossips, the women friends invited to be present at a birth

hic multa desiderantur, a great deal is missing here

horsed for discipline, placed piggy-back to be flogged on the posteriors by a school master

jordan. chamber-pot

kennel, the open drain or gutter in a street, usually in the middle

mopus, a stupid or moping person

pinner, coif (q.v.) with two long hanging strips pinned on each side, worn by ladies of rank

pure bite, completely successful hoax

put, (country) bumpkin, 'buffer'

rubs, disagreeable experiences

sack-posset, a drink made of hot curdled milk, white wine, and perhaps spices

smock, fornicate

stews, brothels

tentiginous humour, an inclination to lust (from the L tentigo, an erection)

truckling, subservient, obsequious

vapours, hysterics

Selected from the glossary to
Jonathan Swift. Major Works,  
ed. by Angus  Ross and David Woolery
Oxford University Press

Friday, November 4, 2011


By the 8th volume it should come as no surprise that these kids just can't get a break. The maniacal cafeteria worker is back and taking charge. He sends Sho and his friends into the desert to dig a well -- yeah, sure. He abandons them in the pit. But they find a crack in the wall that leads them into the ruins of the Tokyo subway system. There they learn, through a convenient, ritual showing of an educational film for the mutant insect creatures who populate the underground, that Japan in the the late 20th century -- Umezu wrote these stories in the 1970's -- had so despoiled the land that women began giving birth to mutant babies, hence the insect creatures, and massive earthquakes buried their civilization. This is another lesson in eco-awareness from the country that gave us Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster.

In a typical twist for Umezu, at the end of the installment the enormous spring of fresh water the kids discovers turns into an active volcano. Damn! Only two more installments to wind this thing up.