This nasty story from future could only have been written by a nasty man from the past, 1980s Stephen King. This was back in the day when he didn’t care, when he broke rules, when he threw “faggot” and “nigger” around liberally, and when he wasn’t pants-wettingly anxious about being a remembered as a Great American Author. He was already something far better than that: a good writer.
He was considered trash at the time. But even if he was, he was a unique kind of trash that defies obvious and easy comparison. Ray Bradbury wishes he was this pissed off. Harlan Ellison wishes he was this coherent. Dean Koontz wishes he was this misanthropic. Apparently the entire book was written over the course of a week, which works just fine – he doesn’t have the chance to get snarky and arch and clever-clever.
The plot is familiar to all, and honestly, not all that sensible. At one point, he moves the story to its next junction by giving the main character a supernatural vision. Then at the end, King can’t figure out what to do, so he blows everyone up. But the story always seemed secondary to The Running Man. The real star is King’s gritty, quasi-cyberpunk world, which he shows off through flashbacks, monologues, and those unexpected shots across the bow King is so good at. A good example of the latter is when the main character meets a woman with full breasts, and concludes she must be corrupt or criminal (because she’s eating well.)
The pace is breakneck. You’re afraid to stop reading because you might get whiplash. The book simply doesn’t have a dull or boring moment, from the man’s run-in with gangsters with hearts full of gold (and lungs full of cancer), to the incredible high-stakes bluffing game at the airport, to the final catastrophic flight to the FreeVee offices. It’s impossible that an out of work every-man could be this good at outshooting and outwitting trained killers, but the relentless pace of the book quashes these objections in your mind. You can’t smell a fart when they’re travelling at Mach 3.
This is one of those “look at me” books that does anything for your attention, and tries to be bigger and louder than a movie. A comparison to Ellison seems appropriate here, because he’s also known for doing anything in his stories for the sake of holding a punter’s attention. But unlike Ellison, King doesn’t seem to have Narcissistic personality disorder, so I don’t know what his excuse is.
This is the best Bachman book (although Misery would have edged it out, had it been released under that name), and probably the darkest and grittiest of King’s novels. 1984 pastiches are dull and overfamiliar these days, and so are cautionary tales about couch potatoes and reality TV, but The Running Man still scorches and sizzles on the page. This isn’t a maudlin, sentimental old man who writes with his literary reputation first and foremost in mind. This is 1980s Stephen King. Don’t walk, run.
Hailing from that legendary hotbed of heavy metal Ulaan Baataar, Mongolia, Ornaments of Agony is a funeral doom band (meaning that if you enjoy listening to it, they have failed and you are entitled to your money back).
Funeral doom is not a genre that lends itself to mutation and experiment. There is only one way to do this sound, and Ornaments of Agony sound much like Wormphlegm and Ahab and all the rest. A distant, reverb-saturated guitar assault rips at your ears, like buzzsaws from a kilometer away. A vocalist croaks and groans miserably, his voice distorted and Daleked beyond recognition. Pianos play ugly, chromatic melodies. Pianos seem a fixture in funeral doom, I suppose because an ear bored of guitar dissonance can be shocked anew by awful noises made on a piano. In D&D terms, the guitars are chaotic evil, while the pianos are lawful evil.
“Heregsuur” emerges from a null hypothesis of fuzzy industrial noise. The song initially sounds like a relaxing Pelican song before becoming nasty and brutal. “Huiten amisgal” is really too fast for funeral doom, and is more vocally-driven than the others, but the general template of dissonance remains.
The performance is (deliberately?) sloppy, with different tones and timbres just coming and going, none of them really in time or having much to do with each other. The old joke goes: three men in the third world are in prison, and they ask each other why. The first says ‘I was always 5 minutes late for work, so I was accused of sabotage’ The second says ‘I was always 5 minutes early for work, so I was accused of espionage’ But the third says ‘I was always on time for work, so I was accused of having a Western watch’. That could also describe the tracking and recording of this album.
“Tumen jargal, arvin zovlon” finishes the album much as it starts – that’s my one complaint, it’s that the album is too unvarying in its approach. Maybe the band members thought that the album should be constructed like a battleship – solid gray steel from top to bottom, with no point of weakness. But Sun O)))’s “Alice” shows that slow metal songs don’t have to be like that. You can finish different to how you started, without compromising a track or album’s intensity and bleakness.
Like all extreme metal, Ornaments of Agony abandons songwriting and merely tries to be an unforgettable experience. One band of this style sounds the same as the next, and I have no idea if this band’s one member is intentionally sloppy or just sucks at playing. But the goal is achieved, nevertheless. Genghis Khan would execute enemies by pouring liquid metal down their throats, and Ornaments of Agony continues his tradition in sonic form.
The future is separated from us by a few sunrises and sunsets. The past is locked away forever. If you want to know what will happen in anno domini 3014, the solution is relatively easy: live a thousand more years. But we’ll never know for sure what happened in 1014, unless it’s documented in some way through art or writing (which themselves are unreliable). In theory, we could use computers to recursively calculate past events, but even that approach is better suited to the future than the past. It’s easier for a computer to take some causes and calculate the end state than to take an end state and calculate the causes.
What’s particularly interesting is musical history. Who was the first guitarist to use distortion? Who was the first drummer to use a matched grip? Many of these questions have no answers. People who make history often don’t realise they’re making history, and many things from music’s past are unrecorded and undocumented.
In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum is an Italian progressive rock album, allegedly from 1969. If this is true, then Jacula was more groundbreaking than a nose-diving 747 packed with shovels. The levels of distortion and heaviness rival anything Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple could boast at the time, and the songwriting is dissonant, challenging, and very dark. If it could be proven that this is from 1969, you could definitely say that Jacula were the true forefathers of doom metal.
But maybe it’s not from 1969. The guitar distortion has a very processed and modern character, quite unlike the rawness of Link Wray’s early sound, or the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”. There’s fairly technical guitar shredding that also doesn’t jibe well with a 1969 release date. Nobody can find any reference to this album in contemporary Italian music magazines. There are rumours that In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum was recorded much later, and given a ludicrous back-date to enhance its street cred.
Sadly, lies about release dates are common in metal. French hack Luc Mertz (who records as Zarach “Baal” Tharagh) claims he was playing black metal in 1983, before even the first Metallica album. Black metal musician Kanwulf claims to have released a demo in 1989, which seems unlikely given that the name “Kanwulf” comes from a TV series that aired in 1995, and this name is prominently stamped on the cover of his demo. Everyone wants to be the first to the party.
How well does this album stand up, if we give it a later release date? Not too well. The songwriting is bleak but tedious. Its symphonic themes are fairly complex but tonally the same, and this bores the ear. The guitars are just “there” – there’s no riffs driving the music, the way Tony Iommi would have it. The album’s one interesting moment is “Triumphatus sad”, where guitar solos and hammond keyboards duel back and forth in an interesting manner. Otherwise, the album is a monotonous backdrop of sound. ONE sound.
Does In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum have value? That depends on the release date. If it’s from 1969, it’s an important part of musical history. If it’s from the 90s, it’s worthless and forgettable. And nobody knows when it’s from, so I guess it’s like they used to say: You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Or did they? I don’t know. That’s from the past too.
Filed under the bookstore section called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Blameless”, this is the KISS drummer’s attempt to set the record crooked. The KISS breakup soap opera has no shortage of pointing fingers, but Peter Criss adds all eight of his own, plus two (non-opposable?) pointing thumbs, and a pointing toe. Gene’s an asshole, Paul’s an asshole, Ace is an asshole, his grandma’s an asshole, the IRS together comprises an asshole…nothing’s ever Criss’s fault, is it? At its best, the book is revealing and honest. Sometimes it’s shallow and manipulative, 384 pages of PR management. And it was ghost-written, which adds another obfuscating layer between the reader and the truth.
It opens in 1994. Criss is in a filthy bedroom in LA, down to his last hundred thousand dollars, and getting ready to shoot himself. The barrel of the gun is in his mouth when he looks at a picture of his daughter, and he hears God telling him not to do it. The scene is overcooked and not entirely convincing. Then we go back to the beginning, when a young man called Peter Criscoula joined a band called Wicked Lester, which changed its name to KISS, recruiting Bill Aucoin, and emerged as the hottest act in rock (figuratively and otherwise. The time when Gene Simmons set himself on fire is described with some glee)
There’s some big laughs in this part of the book: like when the band discovered that their live show had finally received a positive review…from a gay lifestyle magazine. But ultimately you can’t say that Peter “Catman” Criss ever fell out of character, for Makeup to Breakup is indeed catty: proof of this comes early in the book, where he slams Paul and Gene for their “revisionist KISStory”. This is the start of a lot of ripping on his erstwhile bandmates, which starts out funny and then becomes less so.
Makeup to Breakup is certified masturbatory material if you hate “Gaul Stimmons” (Paul is described as semi-gay, with a fixation for men’s dicks. Gene is presented as a power-tripping megalomaniac who belongs in a room with padded walls), but for heaven’s sake, at least those guys wrote music. What did Criss ever do? “Beth”? That was someone else’s song. He didn’t vibe with the band musically (he recalls hearing a tape from Wicked Lester and thinking it was too heavy for his taste), and his personality clashed with everyone. Add in his well-documented substance issues and you have a hors de combat member of the KISS Army.
Criss’s problem is that he was boring – and that is the one thing rock stars can never be. They can suck at their instruments. They can be narcissists and egomaniacs. They can be brazen criminals. But they can not be boring. Criss was smaller than life, the dullest member of the band, possessed of a fragile, neotenous face and quintessentially inadequate drumming skills. His career highlight was really someone else’s highlight. He even had the most boring character.
Criss wasn’t a rock star, he was more of a rock meteor…a brief flash in the night sky, and then an anticlimactic cooling lump displayed in a museum for the next forty years. Say what you will about Gene and Paul, but THEY are KISS. All Peter Criss did was keep the drummer’s stool warm for a while, and this memoir exposes it totally.
80% of heavy metal is played by after-hours Burger King workers with lyrics that are about killing people and worshiping the devil. It’s not exactly high-class entertainment, and you’d think more metal fans would have a sense of humor. However, they tend to be insecure crybabies, and this album illuminated that fact with an atom bomb blast.
Iron Fire is a power metal band that arrived in 2000 with Thunderstorm, a Hammerfall ripoff that possessed energy and passion (things the actual Hammerfall has not had in years) but little creativity. Their second album, On the Edge, was frontman Martin Steene’s effort at fixing that by adding Motley Crue vocals, progressive song structures, and various other things. The results were dismal sales, countless lost fans, and the termination of a record deal.
The band is too obscure for the album to be a notorious flop, but a listen reveals a sadly overlooked and misunderstood album that could have been the cure for power metal’s current diseases. I would rather hear this sort of thing than the new Edguy, Helloween, or Sonata Arctica albums – “experimental” though it is. Derided and maligned, this album is the power metal Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (but as Neil Degrasse Tyson pointed out, if Rudolph’s nose is shiny then it’s probably just reflecting light, not emitting it – useless for navigating fog.)
If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, stay with the program just for tracks 1-7. The band is just on fire in these six songs and one prelude, with huge hooks, addictive melodies, and Tommy Hansen’s superb production – each of “The End of it All’s” kick drum hits strikes your ear like a spitball of perfectly compressed air. “Into the Abyss” lurches from downtempo sludge to uptempo thrashing like a Panzer tank changing gears, and “On the Edge” brings lots of agitation and vocal histrionics, accentuated by some death metal vocals.
But the greatest song of all is “Thunderspirit”, an amazing shockwave of high-speed energy driven by Morten Plenge’s lightning-fast drumming and maybe Martin Steene’s best vocal performance ever. The cannon-fire in the bridge was a nice touch.
Two songs are total bombs. “Wanted Man”…Stop it with this cat crap, Steene. The only place where you’re a wanted man is in the local gay bar for the 345345987 male escorts you forgot to pay. “The Price of Blood” is not as irritating but instead is far more boring – nothing to grab on to here except dry rock riffs and some goofy vocal effects.
But out of all the Iron Fire releases, this is the one that interests me the most. It’s unified, it’s catchy, it has an impressively low number of filler songs, and it’s not overly muddy or dark-sounding like their newer efforts. Definitely underrated, and worth seeking out. Heavy metal can suck, but you don’t have to.
I cannot find the direct quote, but Haruki Murakami’s translator said something to the effect that you should never learn a second language, because it will make you realise how much your favorite foreign-language books were corrupted in the translation. I don’t think this would be much of an issue with Borges’ writing. There’s a timelessness about his stories, as if they’re not constructed from fragments and morphemes but from ideas. So long as a language recognizes the basic building blocks of logic, Borges’ tales can be translated to and read it in.
This book collects most or all of Borges’ “fiction”. This makes for a varied read, but varied is the rubric of everything Borges’ wrote. This collection is everything at once, all the time. Alternate history runs into proto-Ballardian speculative fiction, which bows out for poetry and fantasy and essays. Erase the front and back cover and this could be an anthology by at least five separate authors.
The first section is A Universal History of Infamy – tales of swashbuckling and adventure that blend history and mythology in the same way as…actual history. These stories are thematically shallow but action-packed and exciting. Borges apparently didn’t think much of this book, but what did he know?
Then we get to the the two legendary collections – Ficciones and The Aleph. What can I say about them? Try to understand them and you will only get part of the truth. Try to describe them and they will sound distorted and ruined on your tongue. Try to imitate them and you will fail. This is partly because of Borges inimitable style – direct, yet coy – but it’s mostly because these stories are about things truly beyond human comprehension. The human figures in his stories seem dwarfed, like ants gathering food in the shade of the Colossus. Even the stories that don’t invoke mathematical infinity have a larger-than-life quality about them, such as the haunting “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, which evokes similar feelings of cosmic dislocation as Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and more gracefully too.
The tales from The Maker are slightly less ambitious but are entertaining and thought provoking. There’s “Borges and I”, probably the only story I’ve read that’s in the both the first and second person simultaneously, and “Toenails”, a disturbing musing on one’s body parts. It’s the sort of thing that might have appeared on Jorge Luis Borges’ blog, had such a thing been possible.
There were better writers of philosophy (numberless), better writers of fantasy (a lot), better writers of horror (a few), and better writers of speculation fiction (one or two), but nobody else was a jack of this many trades. He was even a master of pithy quotes (“a fight between two bald men over a comb” – on the Falklands conflict). Almost everything in this collection is entertaining, and everything is the operational word here. Other writers are like tiles in a floor. Borges is the cement poured between the tiles – connecting everything, joining all. Now come, membership at the Library of Babel awaits.
Starry Wisdom had a story called “Black Static”, by David Conway. It wasn’t the best story in the collection, but it was the defining story – the one that kind of spoke for the others. Then I read Starry Wisdom‘s sequel and “Manta Red” went one better – it was the defining story of the volume and the best one.
Metal Sushi contains both these tales, and four others. Conway’s work could be described as the bang-from-behind bastard children of surrealist literature and those ultra violent 90s anime where the human body is a bag containing about twenty gallons of pressurized blood. He throws a lot at you – lots of themes, lots of ideas, and lots of dense, adjective-stuffed prose.
The first story is “Eloise”, which is like an Oscar Wilde or Edgar Allan Poe story performed in modern dress – very dark and romantic. “Black Static” is more chaotic and challenging, and extracting meaning from it feels more like deciphering tea-leaves than the normal reading of a story. “Manta Red” (the greatest story in this volume, too) is the interstice between the two.
This collection gathers all of Conway’s strengths as a writer, but it gathers all of his weaknesses, too. Metal Sushi suffers from “too much”, particularly “too much writing.” Certain parts sound like the kind of thing they make fun of in the Bulwer-Lytton contest. “His failing metabolism slid further along the steep, declining gradients of encroaching mortality”…he grew old, in other words.
But it also suffers from “not enough.” Despite the purple prose, Metal Sushi feels cold, with not enough energy or passion. It lays out thousands of ideas, but often to little effect. At times it reads like an author writing sentences around interesting words he found in a thesaurus (“A numinous parallax whose focal apex is rooted deep in the reptilian matrix of avatistic consciousness”) – and Michael Gira and James Havoc play that game much better.
But to be honest, I knew what I was getting into. “Black Static” and “Manta Red” were very memorable, but then one has to ask what they were memorable for. David Conway’s writing is a fragmentation bomb of words, blasting you with sensations and ideas, but at the same time blasting other ideas ineffectively away from you. It’s not focused. This is the kind of book that tries to do everything at once, and cram Lovecraft and Akira and Burroughs and Blade Runner into one book. Does it work? Not always. In fact, not even often.
At first, I thought the title was nonsense. Now I see that I was wrong – this book is exactly like metal sushi. Different. Not much nutritional value. Likely to give you tetanus. But eating (or reading) it will be an experience you’ll remember for a while, and I think that was the author’s main intention.
My lawyer wants me to write this as an exercise. I don’t see the point. The verdict has come in, and everyone wants me to go away. I want to go away. No more attention, please. No more idiots shoving microphones in my face, asking if I’m sorry.
Yes, I’m sorry. Very sorry! I’d do it again. I’d do it a hundred times. I’d do worse. But I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?
I’ll write a little, because it beats staring at the wall.
I was born forty two years ago in Brisbane, or so I’m told. I don’t have a birth certificate. I don’t seem to have ended up with the usual accessory of a father, either. I can remember a man picking me up when I was very small, so maybe that was him.
I was raised by my mother, and then by the council when my home situation deteriorated. I hotwired a car at thirteen, and squatted in an abandoned apartment when I was seventeen. I never had a problem with stealing, never thought it made me a bad kid. Now I’m on the hook for a crime to make all the rest look small, so I might as well speak my mind.
The part of my youth I want to tell you about happened when I was nine years old. I don’t remember where mum and I were, but I remember what we did.
We went to see a man.
In one of his books Neil Strauss says something about male psychology. You can take literally any task in the world, give it grades, rankings, and scores, and men will become obsessed with it. What’s the point of martial arts? To learn how to defend yourself? Probably. Most of the guys at your local McDojo are there to attain a higher belt level.
Donkey Kong is an arcade game released in 1981. It runs on a 3MHz CPU, a 224×256 resolution, and the game mostly involves dodging barrels thrown by a gorilla. But because there’s a world record at stake, grown men play it obsessively.
This documentary covers the war to set the top score in Donkey Kong. For many years, the highest score was held by a hot sauce entrepreneur called Billy Mitchell. Then, in 2007, an unemployed schlub called Steve Wiebe set a new record, causing a scandal in the community.
I mistrust King of Kong as a documentary. Its events seems too perfect, too movie-like, too different to real life. But it’s interesting. Lots of battling egos. I liked the way it captures the exhaustion of extended gaming marathons, with the players’ brains grinding themselves to mush. It’s not barrels or fireballs that kill the players at this level, it’s their own fatiguing mental circuits.
Wheels spin within wheels. How do you verify a high score in a videogame? Is a videotape enough, or do you need to perform it live at a “meet”? Is it possible that Steve Wiebe is playing on a “fixed” board that makes it easier to score? Is he being shafted by Twin Galaxies, the organisation that verifies videogame scores?
This movie could cause a psychoanalyst to start climbing the walls. Billy Mitchell in particular seems to have missed his true calling as a cult leader. He’s creepy, charismatic. He doesn’t speak, he asserts. Steve Wiebe seems much more down to earth, but his obsession with the game is only slightly less odd. There’s other memorable characters, like Walter Day, the incongruous head of Twin Galaxies, and Brian Kuh, a weird yes-man in Billy Mitchell’s corner. He doesn’t seem like a guy who has ever spoken to a girl, although he might not be a virgin if you take my meaning.
Probably the most bizarre person in this movie is Roy Schilt, “Captain Awesome”, who talks about his world record in Missile Command like it’s the Pulitzer Prize, and wonders why he hasn’t appeared on any TV shows yet.
And it does seem like a peculiarly male obsession. What’s one of the most popular games among women? The Sims, which has no goals, no scores, no competition. You win when you decide you’ve won. But men seem to need an element of contest in their games. Put them in suburban homes, put them in suits, give them haircuts (a poor one, in Billy’s case), and it doesn’t matter. Only the dead have seen the end of war.
In 1925 Edogawa Rampo wrote one of Japan’s creepiest horror stories. “The Human Chair” was the literary equivalent of pleasantries from the mouth of an leering pervert – the events were tame, even funny at the end, but its subtext of sickness and depravity made it hard to forget.
Moju: The Blind Beast recreates the same atmosphere, but now that subtext is matched with violent and gruesome events more in line with the Hollywood slasher movies it predates by forty years. It has moments of humour, as well as amusing Japanese political incorrectness (Hawaiians are described as “barbarous”, Westerners in general are “disgusting”), but the main impression The Blind Beast leaves is one of destruction and carnage, blood spraying the walls like an artistic fresco.
Singer Mizuki Ranko is being stalked by an blind man of artistic bent who is obsessed with touching the curves and contours of her body. Soon, she finds herself imprisoned in his underground maze, which has walls fitted out with rubber breasts and noses and legs. The man has an obsession with touching things, and craves the stimulus he cannot get from his eyes. He has chosen Ranko to fulfill his desires, and she still might not be enough.
I liked “The Human Chair” more, mostly because it’s more compact and focused, but The Blind Beast is an entertaining read and touches upon many similar themes. Rampo obviously wants to be more sexually explicit, but for whatever reason (fears of censorship or his own prudishness) he tends to imply or insinuate sex rather than outright state it. The effect is rather brilliant, and probably more disturbing for the fact that it isn’t explicit. I’m reminded of how Hollywood’s Golden Age occurred during the period when it laboured under the infamous Production Code.
The book has things to say about art – again, through allegory and inference. The book ends with the blind man conducting an art exhibit, showing a sculpture made from the pieces of various murder victims. A not-so-nice feature, but artists are often not-so-nice people.
The truth is, if The Blind Beast‘s artist goes to hell for his crimes, he might have to wait in line. John Lennon liked to tune up on his wife. So did Elvis Presley. William S Burroughs shot his wife in a drunken game. Allen Ginsberg is a member of NAMBLA. All these guys were members of the vaunted 50s/60s counterculture, back when people thought that art would be the force that saves us from the evil capitalists and what not. A nice idea, but maybe Rampo was right.
Maybe artists, deep down, are the worst people of all.