I Still Carry A Knife

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Root causes are often breathtakingly ugly. We don’t generally let boys play with dolls because they might become… good fathers. This turned up in a brief online discussion.

By the way, dangerous toys were mooted, too, and I have to say that, thinking back, many of the toys I had great harmless fun with would today be considered unconscionably dangerous. Know what changed? Responsibility shifted from parenting to lawsuits. In my childhood, we were taught, “Look. This can hurt people, so when using it we be careful, and if you’re going to be irresponsible with it, then we’ll take it away until you grow up some more.” Hell, we were proud to demonstrate how grown up.

Know how old I was when I got my very first real pocket knife? Six. Today that would be considered a crime and child abuse and unthinkably crazy. Knives are demonized now, even though they are arguably the most useful tool ever invented and should be part of everyone’s accoutrements.

I had a set of toy pistols that shot plastic, spring-loaded bullets. We had cap guns. We had chemistry sets with instructions on how to make explosives, radioactive stuff, and so on in the kit. I helped my father and his father in a wood shop from age 4 or 5. Sure, they gave me tasks suited to me, but I was occasionally taught to run a radial saw or how safely to do this or that atrociously dangerous thing. I have all my digits and limbs intact.

Political Correctness and lawsuits have rendered us helpless fat soft moronic saps, incompetent and incapable, entitled and pampered, the worst combination of deluded and ignorant.

Look around. You really think this is better than that? Is helplessness and panic an improvement over competence and stoicism? Why did we lose confidence in our individual ability? It was taught out of us by a thuggish, all–pervasive media serving the psychopathic greedy corporate fascists, who want us so absurdly infantllike that we must call AAA to get a flat tire changed or pay to have some schlub come build a knock-down shelf for us. Using those terrifying dangerous tools that are considered terrorism weapons by officials.

Fuck all that.

I still carry a knife and always will.

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Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American_gods

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman
Harper Torch, 588pp
$7.99 mass market paperback
ISBN 0 – 360 – 78003 – 5

A Review by Gene Stewart
(written originally for BRUTARIAN in 2002)

This book comes complete with a set of reviewers’ blurbs that would make Gore Vidal blush in his grave.  Such effusive praise must be based on something, right?

Gaimain’s prior books, such as the novel of his TV limited-run series Neverland and the collection Smoke & Mirrors, offered us a glimpse of a serious writer doing genre work.  This one has the feel of a genre writer doing serious work, but that’s not a put-down, largely because he almost pulls it off.

American Gods is a picaresque novel that focuses on Shadow, a huge guy who is just about to be released from jail as we meet him.  He’s eager to see his wife, whom he loves, and eh was in jail because of the crimes of others.  Now he’s ready to be sprung, and the news comes that his wife and his best friend are both dead.  Both were killed in the same car crash.  In the same car.

She died with a significant part of his best friend in her mouth.

Shadow’s world is shattered.  HIs sacrifice has gone for nought.  He is released into a world that no longer holds a damned thing for him.  Or so he thinks.

He meets a cheap older man who calls himself Wednesday.  This guy makes a living conning people with grifts as old as civilizations, governments, and gods.  In the course of this first evening of freedom, Shadow drinks Wednesday’s mead, fights a leprechaun who’s even bigger than he is, and he’s six feet eight, and is given a gold coin with which to practice his endless prestidigitation.  Shadow does coin manipulations to take up slack time and calm himself.

From this simple beginning we get… well, a simple story that takes Shadow all over the United States with a jaunt to San Francisco, where he meets a succession of oddly-named people.  Most are old, all are eccentrate, to say the least, and all have that noumenal glow that tells of godly hints, winks, and nudges.  Their names are often contorted and hard to squint at but it’s a fantasy so you go along.

This cutesy name scheme will annoy those familiar with the gods of various mythologies and spoil the foreshadowing, too, but that’s a small cavil, one suspects, these days.

I liked this book but it took me forever to read it.  Not sure why but I suspect it was the succession fo interchangeable scenes.  They just kept coming, without adding up to anyting.  There didn’t seem to be a bigger pattern.  Unlike Neverwhere, which was a much better-organized and streamlined book, perhaps because he was working from an already-produced TV script with the bugs already worked out, American Gods leans out of the moving vehicle and tries to grab Significance a bit too often.  Or was it merely the Ring of Permanence being rushed past?  It lacked cohesion so I’m not sure.

Okay, there was a mysterious and highly-significant battled looming, yes.  It flickered at the vanishing point on the elusive horizon as if teasing us onward.  It was to be between the old gods, dragged to North America by immigrants over the centuries,and the new gods, such as TV, the Internet, and Political Correctness.  The old gods are a pretty broken-down lot by now, from neglect and lack of respect.  Most barely eke out a living, with exception of lovely Oestre, who is a kind of female Bacchus.  We meet him first, unavoidably, alcohol being ubiquitous.  The new gods are pimply rich fat smart-asses who are also callow, unsure of themselves, and a bit dull.

The battle is the reason everything’s happening but it never gets there, except in a mostly off-stage half-hearted set of scenes mostly concerned with aftermath.  By this time we have learned that the battle was just a con to sucker the gods into shedding their blood for the good of, yes, Odin and Loki.  So what began as a conceit with huge potential is frittered away on a somewhat banal and Marvel Comics sort of ending.

Much of this book is superbly written.  Gaiman has talent, vision, and guts.  He does very well keeping his Britishisms out of the book, although there are a few, mostly nearer the end where the proof-reader were probably feeling the length a bit.

Cutting down the set-up scenes and expanding the battle into something worth of all the conniving, whispering, and plotting would improve the book.  It would also lessen its big for significance, making it less literary.  Make no mistake, a writer like Gaiman can write any form he wants and excel.  He his better than most and just getting warmed up.  
American Gods is well worth reading and very enjoyable.  It is also not his masterpiece and doesn’t begin to live up to the puff blurbs on and inside the covers.  What book could?

Read it not as “unforgettable” but rather as just “damned good” and you’ll get a kick out of it and come away with some cool imagery, such as the roadside attractions.  Read more than what’s on the page into the book and you may be reaching.

Oh, and look the hel out for his next book because he’s going to get all these elements to coalesce one day in an ambitious book like this one and when it happens it will be spectacular.

Now go outside and play while you can still catch the old gods at frolic and at ease.

///

Note from 2015:  This was written in 2002 when I was, briefly, editing BRUTARIAN and as we now know Neil rewrote American Gods into the preferred text I’d recommend to readers today.  In the rewrite he corrected many of the minor flaws this review touched on and added a wealth of treasures, raising American Gods to his masterpiece-so-far level.  That is a writing quality so high larks have trouble spotting it.

By now we also know anything and everything Neil Gaiman writes is worth reading immediately.

///

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Wynter’s Tower, A Developing Story

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Having gathered at the gazebo on Wynter’s front lawn, we followed our host near dusk into his manor house, pausing to admire the grand staircase and balcony, diverting briefly to explore the library, and finally reaching the tower’s round ground-floor room. Curved windows framed a view of the back lawn, gardens, and woods. As night clotted our sight diminished.

We were gestured toward a curved door through which we found spiral stairs of wrought iron. Our footsteps echoed in the stone throat as we climbed to a second door, this one not of carven wood but of metal. Pushing it open brought us onto the tower’s roof from which, standing in the evening surge of breeze from the river, we saw the lawns, gardens, and woods of Wynter’s estate and beyond them. We saw too the crescent of river and across it into the farm fields and dirt roads. We saw the sprinkle of hamlets, glittering villages, even the city’s glow at the horizon. We saw, in short, most of the county. It seemed our vista was widened enough to grant us insights to which others of lower vantage had no access and might not imagine.

Our host now led us down to the ground floor room but did not stop there. We kept descending past storage cellars stacked with wines and sacks of grain and fruit, bins of vegetables. Below these lay the stables where horses nodded into their feedbags as if offering sage consent. Still lower we went into vaulted basements where lay furniture workshops and other repair benches crowded with broken or worn items awaiting a craftsman’s hand.

Finally we came to the locked metal gate worked into a complicated pagan orgy scene. Over it a wrought-iron sign that read: Forbidden Caves. Beneath this label hung a wooden sign stating: Enter Only By Unkind Permission.

Wynter unlocked the gate with a large key. It swung open without a creak on well-oiled hinges. We trooped through with various levels of dread, anticipation, and eagerness for what ever dark frolics our host would have prepared. He stopped to let us gather in the antechamber. “Here we stand under the tower.” His voice resonated. Faint echoes mocked him from the seven main, two secondary, and three deepest chambers. “Here in mother Earth’s womb we disport ourselves in strict privacy among ourselves. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted. Here among a select few we are free from all society’s constraints. No prudery, no disapproval, and no condemnation is present among we chosen. There is wisdom in this. Only by freeing one’s self at the root of all things in life can a man climb high above a ground-level view to glimpse what may loom on life’s horizon. In this way our so-called Hellfire Clubs, denounced by the envious and damned from the pulpit, allow us to advance toward enlightenment despite the common clinging to ignorance and darkness. So come free yourselves in abandon and leave the conventional behind.”

With this we slapped shoulders and laughed as we moved into the first chamber, where the conformities of clothing and other outer signs of slavery to the status quo were shed in exchange for robes, togas, or nothing at all, as each chose.

///

Dashwood’s guest that night, hell, that weekend, was a colonist from the Americas. He was, one gathered, rabble-rousing in Parliament on behalf of the rebellious faction. Being freethinkers and democrats each in our own way, most present at the revels supported him in his cause. His buckskins and furry animal cap with its ringed tail dangling at his shoulder, as a coquette’s flirtatious curl might, kept him easy to spot even in the more shadowed rooms, for he left the cap on even as he disported himself in an otherwise nude state.

Conversation had it that Franklin, for that was the Yank’s name, had bottled lightning and found the key to electrification. He spoke of Leydon jars and making dead tissue dance. A marvel of scientific endeavour, it was but one of his singulars, signal achievements. His rather nasal upper class accent has many odd aspects that kept him audible even from other rooms. This led a goodly part of my mind to follow him, as it were, mentally. To keep track of, was how his woodsy frontier idiom put it when he spoke of remaining cognizant of many lines of scientific inquiry at the same time. He talked much at times, at others listening as if committing each overheard syllable to memory. He wandered incessantly, never indulging too much in any one room’s offerings.

“And how is it, Mister Franklin, with your wit and persuasive charm, you do not yet lead our freedom-seeking American colonists?” This question was posted partly in a gently mocking jest by one of the local gentry, whose land holdings exceeded, it was said, those of the royals themselves.

Franklin’s response proved of interest, with subtle points hidden at first hearing only to blossom like well-planted bulbs along unexpected paths. “It ought be understood that ruling or leading others is a weak position. Weak in that some unavoidably balk and rebel.”

“Even so in your America,” someone called.

Franklin smiled. “Even so. Yet a superior method of supporting everyone’s inalienable, one might say Providential, rights exists. It is the esoteric way. Influencing and guiding an unaware public, herding the masses as a pastor is said to tend his congregation like a shepherd with his flock, is optimum. Doing so unnoticed works best of all; what man or woman–” here he gestured gallantly toward some of the lovely ladies enlivening our festivities, some still busily pursuing their latest stooped conquest– “who among us, be we sheep, cattle, or stallions roaming wild –” cheers arose from some of us men — “balk, let alone rebel, at the invisible? Does one make war against whispers in the breeze?”

These thoughts stayed with me over the turbulent years to come.

Franklin, for all his fame, importance, and travel, remained in reality an invisible man. He embraced esoterica and inhabited its vast, hidden chambers. He made secrecy look easy. Franklin, top scientist and smartest man of his age and epoch, was not trusted to write the U.S. Constitution for fear he would hide encoded or delayed provisions that would spring their traps only years or decades later. Jefferson’s first draft was too liberal and democratic and idealistic. The resultant compromise, the now-famed U. S. Constitution, kept the gentry in control while upholding the principles espoused in America’s Scottish-, Pirate-, and Iroquois-influenced Declaration of Independence.

Anyone who knew him could not help but find Franklin’s invisible presence in all this and so much more.

///

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Review of The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

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The Thief
By Fuminori Nakamura
Soho Crime, 2012
Translated from the Japanese novel Suri, published in 2009
Winner of the Oe Prize
Winner of the 2014 David L. Goodis Prize for Noir Fiction
211pp, trade paperback

Finished The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, an existential crime novel as bleak as it is elegant. It pokes free will hard in the eye by postulating that what we call god in our moments of desperate hope may be merely a psychopathic, manipulative, sadistic crime boss. We are left with small acts of vain defiance that don’t matter.

Narrated in prose as concise and functional as an expert pickpocket’s sleight-of-hand finger moves, it’s a slender novel that demonstrates effortless mastery throughout. The writer behind this pseudonym knows what to leave out and how to make what is not there ominous, eerie, and awful.

Over the thief’s life looms the mysterious tower he glimpses, misty and distant, when he cannot sufficiently immerse himself in the hollow, dark places where theft exists, negative spaces of non-life that let him escape his awareness of oppressive, meaningless existence. Is it a childhood memory of a glimpsed TV repeater tower or is it a metaphorical guard tower watching over a guilt-fenced barbed-wire captivity?

His guilt accrues interest as others link to him.

When his skills draw the notice of a seemingly omniscient, omnipresent crime boss, the thief is first forced to go along with a break-in and robbery that seems too easy, too simple a caper. It requires none of his skill, merely his presence. When this proves to have been political murder, the thief learns he can neither run nor refuse further tasks. The crime boss is influencing if not controlling not only people like the thief but whole nations, perhaps more.

His new, unwanted boss makes a few brief speeches about minutely planning others’ lives. Dispassion makes the violence backing up the boss’s megalomania terrifying yet impersonal.

The thief is tasked with a trio of impossible thefts. Accomplish them by a certain day or die. Worse, a woman and child the thief has linked to despite his best efforts to prevent such connections, other people he has somehow come to be involved with if not actually to care about, are threatened too, if he fails.

The child is a talented street urchin with a budding knack for theft, even pickpocketing, spotted by the thief while trying to shoplift food for his mother. She is the woman the thief gets slightly tangled with, a crass prostitute who cares only for immediate gain and who pops pills for endless, mechanical orgasms.

Faced with impossible tasks and hopeless choices, the thief does what is possible and by the end we see clearly how astoundingly good he is at his profession and how that amazing skill counts for nothing. In the end we see a coin flying to blot out the last gleam of sunlight left to him.

It is a very human reaching, and yearning, for what is not there.

What a breath-taking plunge of story, character insight and revelation, shock and surprise, and chilling cosmic existential cynicism. Simenon would light his pipe and nod. Hammett and Chandler would both have appreciated it from different slants, as would Camus and Dostoyevsky. What began as hard-boiled is here the ice-cold of deep space taking indifferent notice of you.

By all means read it.

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Review of Above Top Secret by Timothy Good

Above Top Secret by Timothy Good

Above Top Secret by Timothy Good

Above Top Secret:
The Worldwide UFO Cover-Up
by Timothy Good
Quill/Wm. Morrow, 1988, 8th imprint
592pp, includes Appendix, Notes, Index
Appendix includes facsimile documents and illustrations
2 b&w photo inserts
Trade Paperback edition

A Review by Gene Stewart

Fat book. It’s a compendium, presented in chronological order, of systematic cover-up by military and government officials in Britain, around the world, and stateside of UFO sightings, details, evidence, and even crash recoveries.

Immediately some will turn away, if the title of this review alone did not repel them. Their loss. This is a fascinating, seemingly endless series of demonstrations, proofs, and glimpses of how a policy to downplay and deny UFO sightings has led, perversely, to public belief in and acceptance of UFOs as extraterrestrial space craft, as well as feeding the warranted deep distrust of official sources that pervades our society.

Denying the reality of what ever those things are is a policy based on fear of admitting the various militaries and their governments have no control whatsoever of their sovereign airspace. Denial does nothing to keep these things off radar, both airborne and ground-based, nor does it prevent UFOs from near-hits on airliners, sometimes collisions, and other dire physical effects.

Turning a blind eye on the documented sightings involving not only ground observers but also ground and air radars and pilots, all seeing a solid something they cannot explain doing things no craft or material we know can withstand is willful ignorance, the position of a child pulling bedcovers over its head to “protect” it from the shadowy intruder.

Timothy Good begins in pre-WW II era first with the ghost rockets, then with Foo Fighters and other sightings, moving forward toward present times in all categories. He also covers historical sightings such as those in Renaissance Art and even carved on cave walls, as well as delving into DIA, CIA, and NASA. He hits on collisions, discusses landings, and the physical effects ranging from radiation to burns to deaths.

In his chapter Down To Earth he presents accounts of, and documentation for, fallen debris and crashed discs and in Above Top Secret, the titular chapter, he sums things by demonstrating the probably reality of the Majestic-12 group as well as classifications that are indeed above top secret, with need-to-know and read-only applications.

Compartmentalization and disinformation are the twin keys to keeping lids on and eyes off.

This book may not convince you but if it fails it means you refuse to grasp the preponderance of evidence concept in order to cling to comforting false certainties. Timothy Good is a solid reporter who digs deep and presents things clearly and concisely. The reason this book is so fat is simply that there is so much concisely to report.

A forward was provided by Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Hill-Norton, G.C.B. This was not a lightweight recommendation of Good’s book. It was an informed, open-minded endorsement by an old soldier who knew some things did not make sense. Fascinating enigma, he called UFOs, remaining open to what ever conclusion the evidence might warrant.

Opening one’s mind to these possibilities, realizing the most rational conclusion is, alas, the extraterrestrial hypothesis, leaves one stranded in doubt. It’s not a state most can stand for long, and so the denials and cover-ups go on.

Meanwhile, what is really happening? Don’t look. You might see something you’re not prepared to allow into your thinking. Worse, you might find your way through the doubt to a degree of certainty, unpalatable thought it is, that intruders from elsewhere are indeed here among us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

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Review of The Man Who Would Be Jack (the Ripper) by David Bullock

The Man Who Would Be Jack by David Bullock

The Man Who Would Be Jack:
The Hunt for the Real Ripper
by David Bullock
The Robson Press, 2012
294pp, 1 illustration, 3 appendices, no index
ISBN: 9781849543408

A Review by Gene Stewart

In the prologue we witness an inmate of the Lambeth Infirmary’s Lunatic Ward escape on the night of 5 March 1891. It’s Thomas Hayne Cutbush, and the book will go on to detail why he might well have been Jack the Ripper.

Initially, Inspector William Race began suspecting Cutbush of the Ripper murders when he was assigned to capture the escaped lunatic, who had a fixation on knives, a penchant for cutting women, and a taste for general mayhem. He was young enough to be acrobatic and quick, nimble over fences, able to climb walls, and sly at evading pursuit.

Race gathered information on Cutbush, learning that he liked drawing mutilated women and studied anatomy on his own, hearing hair-raising stories of her nephew’s violence and moods from the aunt with whom Cutbush lived, and discovering that he was periodically sent to a small coastal town to “recuperate” after his worst outbursts.

Inspector Race duly catches Cutbush and a trial occurs on 14 April 1891, attended by some of the major players in the Ripper murders, even though Cutbush was not charged with any of those. His own crimes sufficed, and, in a move that surprised Race and other onlookers, the trial was brought to a swift close without hearing evidence when a Dr. Gilbert pronounced Cutbush hopelessly insane and unable to understand the proceedings.

Thomas Hayne Cutbush was sent to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane and there this would have ended had it not been for Inspector William Race’s suspicions and research. These findings gnawed at him; he became convinced Cutbush had been Jack the Ripper and after a year’s investigation presented in 1892 his case to his superiors, including Chief Constable McNaughten, whose name figured prominently in the hunt for the Ripper. Without explanation, Race’s conclusions were rejected.

This unsettled him and in 1893 he did something remarkable, especially for those times: He approached the press. Walking into the Fleet Street offices of The Sun, Race discussed his case and caught the interest of the paper’s chief editor, T. P. O’Connor, who immediately assigned one of his top reporters, Kennedy Jones, or KJ, and seconded Louis Tracy.

It would be these young men who pursued the case in minute detail, compiling a file on Thomas Cutbush that was used by David Bullock to produce this book.

He makes a compelling case. Unlike other favorite suspects such as Aaron Kosminski, Cutbush was neither incapable of taking care of himself, nor impoverished. He was apparently available for all the crimes, knew East End London and the Whitechapel area, and moved about freely on foot. He was the type even a frightened prostitute would trust, clean-cut and with enough cash to entice them. He was a young man, strong and agile, fast and controlled despite his obvious insanity.

Even more interesting, he not only fit the aggregate descriptions of the Ripper, and there were several, but was seen a few times smeared with blood and striding along at a rapid clip with a savage scowl, fists clenched, carrying a small Gladstone bag or package.

He even, on the night he escaped from Lambeth Infirmary’s Lunatic Ward, stated, “I have only been cutting up girls and laying them out,” when asked what he’d been up to. He’d been brought in after a bout of mania and had, at first, lain motionless and incommunicative for hours, apparently awaiting the exact moment to pounce and flee, which he did, effectively, some time after he spoke to the examining doctor.

No one book will prove conclusively the identity of the killer we know as Jack the Ripper. A cottage industry exists on never knowing, for one thing. For another, proof is elusive; a recent claim that DNA had solved the case ended up debatable both on grounds of flawed provenance and the ambiguity of mitochondrial DNA. Close but no bloody knife.

David Bullock writes clearly but tosses dramatizing into the reporting of the facts. Many scenes read like fiction, including extrapolated dialogue and actions. While this makes it engaging, it tends to undermine the tone of factual reporting one expects from Ripper books. It should be emphasized that this is a small flaw; the book is worth reading and Bullock does a good job of keeping his facts straight and presenting them in a coherent way.

He editorializes only a little, making his case more by a preponderance of evidence than persuasion.

In the first of three appendices he covers some of the other Ripper suspects, demonstrating why they were not as good a fit as Cutbush.

In appendix two he gives brief biographical sketches of the victims, lest we forget those poor women who died so appallingly.

In the third appendix he tells us what happened to KJ and Tracy, the Sun reporters who brought the details of this story to light. While their series about Cutbush was published to much interest, other newspapers scoffed, not the least because O’Connor decided not to use Cutbush’s name, an error on the side of caution. Worse, on the day the last installment was published, bringing it all to a conclusion, a terrorist bombing at Greenwich Royal Observatory gardens swiped everything else off the front pages and seized the public’s attention.

The story of why Thomas Hayne Cutbush was probably Jack the Ripper languished and its reporters went on to other successes interesting in themselves but not germane to this discussion.

An interesting aside: When Thomas Hayne Cutbush was summarily declared criminally insane and sent to Broadmoor, short-circuiting what surely would have been a sensational trial, it turned out one of the people who would possibly have been called to testify was none other than his uncle, Police Executive Superintendent Charles Henry Cutbush, the guy in charge of policing Whitechapel’s lodging houses in 1888 and actively involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper in 1888.

Charles Henry Cutbush’s boss, Macnaughten, defended Thomas Hayne Cutbush, even using his blood relation to one of his chief officers as a reason to exclude him. Add this to the swiftness of Thomas Cutbush’s commitment to Broadmoor, where he would be safely out of circulation and we are forced to wonder if this was a cover-up to prevent the public from knowing for certain, or even from suspecting, that the nephew of one of the highest police officials was Jack the Ripper.

Scandal that intense could have destroyed the London Metropolitan Police, already under such pressure due to the Ripper murders. Whether they were sure of Thomas Cutbush as a suspect or not, it behooved them to have him tucked away in a lunatic asylum, the most-heavily guarded in Britain where the worst of the most dangerous were kept.

Hint, wink, and innuendo shading circumstantial evidence and a fog of suspicion does not a solid case make but this is certainly a worthy book to add to your Ripperology mental file. You may come away from it, as you perhaps have from so many others, sure you now know the name hidden by the nickname Jack the Ripper.

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Review of The Uninvited by Nick Pope

Uninvited, Pope

The Uninvited: An Exposé of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon
by Nick Pope
Dell pb, 1999,
Appendices, Bibliography, Index

A Review by
Gene Stewart

An oldie but a goodie. The first half of this book is as clear-headed, concise, and rational as anything you’ll read on this topic. He defines his terms, discusses specific cases in detail, and keeps it all grounded in context of a broader set of questions.

From 1991 to 1994, Nick Pope was in charge of the Britain’s Ministry of Defense’s investigations into UFO sightings, encounters, and retrievals. This book was first published in 1997, a follow-up to his first book, Open Skies, Closed Minds, which is now difficult to find.

Mr. Pope knows his material well and has files to back him up, along with many interviews, surveys of locales, and other investigative data turned up in the years since his stint as MoD’s X-Files chief. He is convinced something is going on but does not automatically buy into the ETH, or Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis, which opts for off-Earth, outer space origins for these uninvited beings.

Beings and craft they are, Pope concludes; the evidence is overwhelming, despite what literally crazy skeptibunkers continue to howl. Sightings involving people on the ground, pilots in the air, airplane-mounted radar and cameras, other cameras on the ground, and ground radar demonstrate that, no, it was not Venus mistaken by drunks, nor a weather balloon turning right angles at 3000 mph. It was something solid, real, and unknown.

We cannot even begin to approximate such performance envelopes with our most advanced craft, not even the experimental type. For one thing, physics denies us. For another, materiel; our craft would shatter, warp, or otherwise fly apart if we even tried such maneuvers.

Pope states the primary goal of this book is to offer a solid overview of the abduction phenomenon for those unacquainted with it. He also includes other cases which he has investigated subsequent to leaving MoD. It’s two compelling books in one.

In the process of defining his terms, Pope discusses why he chooses to use ‘abduction’ rather than the more trendy ‘visitor’ terminology. He is unconvinced they are benign, essentially, and views the kidnaping of minds and bodies by Other beings an intrusion. They are intruders into our world, as judged by our experiences of them. He suspects many who view these Others as benign or even beneficial may be suffering a kind of otherworldly Stockholm Syndrome.

The alien abduction phenomenon is wide-ranging and varied, with many surprising aspects, such as the possibility of a breeding program between these Others and us Humans. Multi-generational abduction experiences are common, it seems, and it has been claimed that it’s not abduction because these Others got our permission to perform their experiments long ago, either in each person’s childhood or, more sinisterly, from a national governmental agency speaking on our behalf without our knowledge or consent.

Another oddity: Human beings, often in uniform, are reported aboard the craft we call flying saucers, which come in so many shapes and sizes as to boggle the mind. Some conclude this proves military involvement, if not proving the Pentagon is behind it all. This, as mentioned, is so unlikely as to be inconceivable. We just don’t have the right stuff.

As to military involvement, Pope’s investigations, official and subsequent, reveal our troops to be baffled, often alarmed, and officially bound to keep quiet about the fact that they are impotent against these UFO things. Our skies are not ours to control, nor are airbases where nuclear weapons are stored, nor are missile bases, nor rocket launches, nor bio-chemical munition stores.

What percentage of an alien abduction is psychological,what part is physical, if any? Have external observers seen people being, say, levitated in beams of light that fall short of the ground or eased through walls and windows? Amazingly, yes.

Part Two of the book discusses other cases Pope has pursued on his own. Fascinating aspects, such as boosted psychic or ESP abilities resulting from alien abduction, or implants, thought to monitor location and possibly vital health signs, or the likelihood that these Other beings have been with us all along.

It is the thesis that the Other beings are what were once called the Faerie Folk, or the Wee Folk, or the Gentry, or pixies, brownies, sprites, dryads, naiads, gnomes, trolls, and so on in our varied global folklore. Are they, Pope asks, from right here, right now, all along? Is interdimensionality involved?

Much of the observation of both UFOs and the Other beings, ranging by the way from the Grays of Whitley Strieber’s Communion cover to the Nordics, the Insectile, and of course the notorious Reptoids from Zeta-Reticuli, indicate other dimensions, not vast interstellar distances, are linked to the amazing things they seem able to do.

From Neolithic cave paintings to Renaissance portraits and beyond, images of both UFOs and the standard types of Other beings resonate through all cultures. In myth, stories of both sky people and ground people proliferate across the continents. Some of the myths outright specifically claim space beings came to Earth and gave us civilization.

Is this a warped ancestral memory of a comet or asteroid impact that changed us from hunter-gatherer groups, our stable social model for hundreds of thousands of years, to agricultural, urban-centric “civilized” groups, the city-states and eventual nations we know today? Is it metaphor? Or are such claims blunt fact, fact so wild we now choose to see it as myth.

Ancient Egyptian folklore and myth is, all by itself, perfectly up-to-date space alien crazy, and it’s among the oldest. The Nephilim and Anunnaki of Sitchin come to mind, as do the feathered serpent “gods” in Mayan imagery, or flying dragons in Chinese myth, and so on. Even the Oracle of Delphi was a huge serpent, catered to by the famous vestal virgins.

Were all these things simply interpretations of Other beings, perhaps space aliens of different races?

This is a compelling book full of provocative cases handled concisely in detail, with much to consider. It is meant to start a reader into a complex, sometimes swampy field of inquiry but it is also a straight-forward account by a clear-thinking, ordinary man who began as a full-on skeptic and who, by dint of seeing so much evidence, now understands that there are Other beings we do not understand.

Unless some of us do and aren’t saying, which is another fascinating possibility he touches upon. Grab a copy and read it, it’s worthwhile.

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Review of Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado

Grave's End, Mercado

Grave’s End, A True Ghost Story
by Elaine Mercado, R.N.
Introduction by Hans Holzer

Llewellyn, 2001, 2nd Printing
ISBN: 0 – 73870 – 003 – 7
Trade Paperback

This is a well-written, rational portrait of a family dealing with the effects of a haunting. As is the established pattern with such things, it begins slowly and escalates slowly until it becomes intolerable.

This is less about a haunted house and more about a haunted family.

Mercado makes clear that fear exacerbates tolerance. While she is afraid, due, as she admits, to having had a strict religious upbringing that taught her to fear anything one might fairly label supernatural, or paranormal, her daughters are less afraid. One, the older, in her teens, is interested and curious about the hauntings.

The book takes us into their lives as they deal with first a strained, then a broken marriage. These stresses add to the fraught atmosphere in the house, which also brings to bear glowing balls of light, (she does not use the term orbs, which is refreshing), that bounce along the ceiling or vanish into walls.

There are strange thumps, thuds, and footsteps. We see small lumpish clumps of dusty-looking shadows flit along the floorboards. In Victorian times they’d have been called rats but she has the house checked for vermin and there is no sign.

There are strange voices, too. The family’s names are called, growls raise hackles, and shadows condense and loom over beds. Finally, people are seen, seemingly solid until they fade away. It is oppressive, with much aggression and hostility shown.

All of this is presented matter-of-factly by Mercado, who tends to filter it all through psychology. She also digs into the history of the place, seeking links to possible reasons for the odd things going on. A recurring image is these three women alone in the house huddled in one room, afraid to be in their own beds, trying to get through another night of pestering. It’s an effective image of dread and of coping.

What comes through is determination and strength of character as Mercado and her daughters deal with being stalked by the unknown. When desperation peaks, priests are consulted; the clergy waves the family off, not interested in bothering. Further desperation leads them to agree, finally, to consult with investigators of the paranormal, including, at last, in February of 1995, a medium, Marisa Anderson, and the renowned paranormal investigator, author, and personality Dr. Hans Holzer agree to come check things out.

They say a vortex exists, and the medium goes straight to all the problem areas, and knows where the neutral zones are in the house, without being told a thing. Dr. Holzer in tow, she leads them to the basement, where a crawlspace door has been opened long since by the children in the house.

What follows is a prolonged battle of wills between the entities, spirits, or energies in the house and the medium, who eventually ushers all the wayward spirits “into the light” so they can move on. It is nothing like POLTERGEIST, with no pyrotechnics, no special effects, and no dramatic confrontations. Quiet concentration and application of will, with a few whispered words, are all that happens outwardly, yet, when the medium and Dr. Holzer are finished clearing and cleansing the house, its atmosphere at once lightens and loses its oppression.

Psychological? Did the professionals give them a lengthy ritual performed as theater to allow a psychological readjustment and acceptance of living in the house where a marriage had ended and a new career and three lives had started over? Maybe that’s it.
Or maybe there are things we do not understand completely that can be helped or hindered by people who open themselves to the paranormal and try to discover and play by its rules.

Either way, this is an enjoyable, fascinating book, one of the most influential and important in the literature of the paranormal. Recommended for its level-headed narration of events and commonsense approach to dealing with experiences beyond most people’s lives.

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“Show, Don’t Tell” – a RAT STEW Column

Helen Lester in Sally mode

Helen Lester in Sally mode

Rat Stew
A Column for The Reluctant Famulus
by Gene Stewart

“Show, don’t tell.”

We hear this echoed in English composition classes. We hear it parroted in writing workshops. We hear it cited in reviews and quoted in interviews.

We rarely hear an analysis of what it means and, worse, what it does to writers who accept it unexamined and take it on board their yachts of writing ambition.

To show is to dramatize. Acting out a scent allows action to reveal what is pertinent to the story.

To tell is to narrate. Narration condenses various actions that would be dull to detail, allows discussion of character, and provides context. It is the way depth of field is added to the focus. It is how contrast is introduced. It is how theme and conflict grow.

Leaving aside description, dialogue, and other parts of fiction, we see that drama and discussion of it are the anodynes of not only good storytelling but of meaningful fiction. They are separate considerations, each depending on what function is needed at a given point in the story.

To promote one aspect of writing into dominance is to deform the writing. A given aspect of writing is to be preferred only according to the job it needs to do.

In BARRY LYNDON, Stanley Kubrick makes each frame a lush painting. He also paces the action slowly, the way things unfolded back then. To emphasize this, he dramatizes coach rides rather than narrating them. To a modern viewer, watching Ryan O’Neil ride along for twenty minutes jostled by pitted dirt roads in a horse-drawn carriage as richly green countryside goes by in the window is boring. Worse, it makes many viewers impatient and takes them out of the story, collapsing their suspension bride of disbelief and dropping them in a river of uncaring.

While true to the times depicted, such intervals of dramatized travel seem to howl for the narrative scene cut.

For stark contrast, see Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which is nearly all showing with very little telling, unlike the superb Anthony Burgess novel on which it’s based, where the mix is more balanced.

Then there is the action/adventure genre in movies. TRANSPORTER, TAKEN, and the Daniel Craig CASINO ROYALE strike views as headlong roller-coasters of action. THE BOURNE IDENTITY shoves Matt Damon through the dense action scenes so frenetically, using a mobile, jostled camera to heighten the effect, that it left many viewers nauseated from motion sickness.

These were examples of show, don’t tell translated to the screen. All action, precious little dialogue, plot, or narration. What little exposition exists in such films is delivered obliquely in gruff monosyllables.

Then there are character studies. ROSEMARY’S BABY offers little action, placing the drama psychologically and presenting it in naturalistic narration. We watch a vivacious young bride go through mundane days as slowly a doom shadows her. It is not slam-bang action sequences, it is not acting things out, it is, instead, a thoughtful narration of her circumstance, gradually elaborated until we understand.

Such choices affect the quality of fiction.

Genre fiction is meant first and foremost to entertain. It stands before an audience promising a good time. If the multi-level accomplishment of actual entertainment cannot be reached, momentary diversion suffices. If even that fails, distraction waits in the wings like stooges of old, ready to wake up a nodding audience and shake up a somnolent cast with frantic chaos.

“When in doubt, have a gun go off,” Raymond Chandler advised, contrasting Anton Chekov’s advice that, “If you show a gun in act one, it must go off by the end of act two, or your third act is ruined.” Please note that Chandler, who ad-libbed tough-guy prose poetry, famously failed to keep track of his own plots, not even knowing how many corpses there were or who killed whom or why. He’s famous for tone. For a genius like Chandler, tone was enough.

H. P. Lovecraft is another tone writer, while Arthur Conan Doyle was both a tone and atmosphere writer. Note that such pens work mostly in narration rather than dramatizing much. Sherlock Holmes stories, some of the most perpetually popular ever written, are almost all tell, with little show.

Hemingway wrote in passive voice, past tense narrative almost exclusively and dramatized almost nothing. Trained as a reporter, he simply reported things. He is the most influential writer of his generation and continues to be.

We now begin to see that “Show, don’t tell,” is senseless advice if a writer is paying attention to what function is needed for a given passage. One suspects this advice arose from an attempt to keep neophyte writers on the mark. If a would-be writer does not know what scenes to narrate and which to dramatize, they tend to fall into a flat drone that tramples all interest. They are not storytellers, they are not writers, they are blind to opportunities for acting out genuine clash and conflict. Their sense of drama is muted, if there at all, so their work lacks interest.

Variety is the spike of vampires. Surely Bram Stoker understood drama, having worked as a theater producer most of his life. He knew killing Lucy in the novel Dracula was a scene fraught with intense conflict, deep meaning, and hair-raising horror. Show, don’t tell such a scene by all means, and oh how he did.

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, we do not see Scrooge on stage earning his millions. We do see acted out Bob Cratchit freezing on his stool as he works away on Scrooge’s ledger. Dickens has a master’s eye for emphasizing drama, conflict, and context. He knew how to choose show or tell to fit the purpose of each scene.

Dickens never saw a movie. He did see, produce, act in, and greatly enjoy theater, however. He even wrote plays. His awareness of how to use a limited stage to enhance drama is on full display in Oliver Twist when Sikes murders Nancy. It is also turned to an incredible level of sophisticated flourish when the vile lawyer Tulkinghorn is murdered in Bleak House. The scenes are, once read, unforgettable.

To make a scene resonate, know what to show, and what to tell. While separate considerations, they usually occur simultaneously in fiction. Go read a passage from almost any of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. Pay attention to her sentences. She has an interesting way of showing action in each sentence while also adding in thoughts and feelings, which is telling. She interweaves these things to give depth and add interest.

Her adult works such as The Cuckoo’s Calling are recommended for fine writing and bravura plotting and presentation.

Next time you hear the echo of “Show, don’t tell,” remember that it’s incomplete advice at best, little more than a post-it note to remind you to think through what you’re putting down in words. Pay attention to vocal tone, atmosphere, description, and dialogue, yes, but always for a solid foundation decide whether what you’re writing in that scene needs more acting out, or more explanation for context. It will almost always be a mix but you’ll know which to emphasize.

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Ideologues On Parades

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”
/ Thomas Paine

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Yet some Crazies are not so easy to spot as Teabaggers and GOP haters. They call their cringe Reason and hide behind brave terms such as Skeptic and Debunker. Those who ridicule, mock, or seek to stop questioning, thought, and investigation are not rationalists protecting the poor helpless idiots of the general public, of whom they hold a low opinion, from the terrifying lamentable sanders of irrationality.

Far from it.

Those are protectors of ideology. They enforce the status quo. They scare away legitimate scientists with the threat that interest shown in the wrong things will cause them to be swarmed by sneering condescending patronizing scoffers who will question their judgment, pour scathing acidic sarcasm on their work, and soon call them crazy.

These intellectual thugs intimidate and claim right of approval when it comes to which topics and what approaches are permitted. Thought police is what they are, if we let them be. If we take seriously their specious claims (swamp gas) and ludicrous standards (extraordinary claims — defined by them of course — require extraordinary evidence — what ever that is) we let them rig the discussion against rationality.

They fear anything they don’t understand and they insist they have all the answers. Know-it-all blow-hard toddlers are often more valid.

Be specific. State facts and name names. Stick to empirical fact and do not let the guardians of the status quo buffalo you, scare you, or bully you. If you think independently they will try first to fool you, seduce and co-opt you, then to bully and ostracize you. They will come disguised as Reason, Rationality, and Skepticism but they are not those things any more than the Dominionist Capitalist Christians are actually Christian.  They are zealots with a missionary zeal to define and contain inquiry and thought.

CSICOP, Kurtz’s Krazy Krusaders, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, Michael Shermer, Ray Nickell, The Semi-Tumescent Randi, and others carry this mark proudly and loudly.  Know them for the arrogant, empty bullies they are.  When they say, “Most such claims are hoaxes and mistakes and if we had enough evidence we could explain them all,” retort with fact, such as, “Actually, the better the evidence, the less likely an explanation becomes for anomalous events.”  When they try to charge you with a logical fallacy, point out theirs, it is sure to be there.  When they begin getting nasty, and they will, calmly ask for substantive points, evidence, and demonstrations of their claims.  When they try to put words and thoughts into your statements, and when they try to inject absurdities to then mock, point it out and refuse to let them set the debate’s agenda or terminology.

Explain that showing how something could be faked does not mean the initial event was faked.  Explain that anecdotal solutions are no more reliable than anecdotal accounts, often far less so.  Point out the flaws in their math; they love flawed math.  In trying to keep them honest you will find they are not.  This will eventually free you from any impression that they represent logic, rationality, or skepticism.  Far from it.  All they represent is an adamant, fearful world view, closed-minded and infantile, a world view in which they question nothing and have answers for everything because that keeps them feeling safe and smug and superior.

Admitting there are things we do not know and must investigate terrifies them; it is chaos to them.  They have so demonized the term Conspiracy Theory that it is now used as a synomym for Crazy Bullshit, when in fact a theory is merely a testable hypotesis used tentatively to explain an event that is otherwise inexplicable.  As we test, fact arises and we trim our theory to conform to facts, leading to a preponderance of evidence allowing for conclusions.  Please note, conclusions are always tentative, pending further fact arising or better refinement of the analysis of what fact we have.

Ask poor Pluto, once a planet, now a planetesimal.

Ad verus, per ardua.

/ geste

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