Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No. 12 - The Call of the Wild and White Fang

by Jack London

Started: February 24
Finished: March 1

Notes: This is actually two short novels combined into one book. I've been meaning to read "The Call of the Wild" for years, as its one of those classics that has slipped past my readings all these years. Considering "The Call of the Wild" is supposed to be an allegory, at least according to many literary scholars, for London's strange mixture of beliefs about society, socialism and individualism, I believe I'll find this quite interesting.

Mini review: Of the two tales here, "The Call of the Wild" is the one better written and most emotional for the reader. That being said, "White Fang" is the more complex of the two, and it has the happy Hollywood ending that is denied in "The Call of the Wild." Overall I preferred "The Call of the Wild," probably because the darkness within the tale borders on the Stygian depths of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the sharpest moments of madness of Ahab in "Moby Dick" and other such dark stories. The main difference here is "The Call of the Wild" is the story of a dog, not a man, though the allegory is somewhat obvious (even moreso in "White Fang," actually). "White Fang" is practically an opposite tale of "The Call of the Wild," and is more complex mainly because of that opposite. In other words, it's much easier to turn a decent dog into a brute than it is to completely rehabilitate a brute into a decent dog (or man). I should have read both these stories years ago and am sorry I didn't.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No. 11 - The Secret Life of Houdini

by William Kalush and Larry Sloman

Started: February 16
Finished: February 24

Notes: I've felt drawn to Houdini as a minor but interesting historical figure not only for his professional as a stage magician, but also for his interests in spiritualism. I've been meaning to read a biography about him for some time, and this recent one seems to be one of the best and worth my time.

Mini review: Though this book glosses over Houdini's youth, it quite intensively goes over his adult life, literally month by month in many instances. You won't find the secrets to Houdini's tricks here, but you will discover much about the man himself. The authors here seem to be pushing the possibility Houdini worked with U.S. and British intelligence services in gathering information in foreign lands and possibly even about domestic criminals, which all seems quite likely considering the information promoted in this book and the fact Houdini didn't seem to hide the fact he worked as sort of a spy sometimes. This book also seems to lean toward the possibility Houdini was murdered by Spiritualists, a group he publically and privately attacked numerous, numerous times; this idea I find a little harder to digest, but it's not impossible. Actually, the section of this book dealing with Houdini's taking on the Spiritualist frauds I found the most interesting parts of the whole book.

Friday, February 12, 2010

No. 10 - Red Harvest

by Dashiell Hammett

Started: February 12
Finished: February 16

Notes: This is a detective author I should have read long ago, but I didn't. So I've finally got around to it. Also, this particular novel was an inspiration for the movies "Yojimbo" and "Fistful of Dollars," which is appropriate to a chapter in the novel I'm currently working on. I guess I can count this one as research.

Mini review: Not a bad read. Hammett is definitely an author who I'll have to check out again. Ed McBain is still my favorite of the hardboiled writers (though he's technically a police procedural author), but Hammett definitely has an interesting, east-to-read style.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No. 9 - Death Troopers

by Joe Schreiber

Started: February 10
Finished: February 12

Notes: I'm not a big fan of modern Star Wars fiction, nor of the modern movies (though "Sith" was the best of the lot, in my opinion). Still, zombies and Star Wars? I couldn't pass that up. I've been hankering to sink my teeth into this novel since I first heard about it a year or so ago. And I'm in the mood for some mindless entertainment reading. Perhaps this will suffice.

Mini Review: The most feared two words in the Star Wars universe are not "Lord Vader" or "Death Star." Oh, no. Those evils are quite quaint. Try, "zombie wookies." Now those are two words that should send shivers down the spine of any Stormtrooper. This was a fun book. Some gore, but not over-the-top, and there was a surprise appearance in the middle of the book of some favorite characters. A fun, breezy read that kept me wanting more.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Featured writer at Deadman's Tome

That's right, your's truly is the featured writer over at Deadman's Tome horror ezine. I'm not sure how long that will last, whether it's for the month or just a few days, but check it out and the five stories I've got on the site.

If you like horror, you'll like the site.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The latest project looms

After a few weeks spent working on non-fiction articles, finishing editing a short story, submitting the short story and doing research on my next fiction project ... I've begun the fiction project.

The title, so far, is "Bayne's Climb." Right now I'm expecting it to be novella length, about 45,000 words. You can check out my progress at the very bottom of this blog. There's a little bar there noting my progress. Not much, yet, but the progress will come.

I had about a dozen different ideas for my next project, but eventually I worked my way around to one.

What is "Bayne's Climb" about? I won't say too much for now, but it's fantasy. On an online forum a while back I saw some postings about Sword and Sorcery stories, and if there was such a thing as a literary Sword and Sorcery tale. The general response seemed to be "no," Sword and Sorcery being just action fiction with no higher asperations. I disagree with that. I've always felt Sword and Sorcery has a lot to say about the human condition, often about such topics as the male ego, patriotism, honor, death. And, of course, there's the expected action and adventure, which can be fun. But heck, I find high meaning in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."

So, can Sword and Sorcery be a literary tale? I aim to try. After a lot of thought on a plot, and a good bit of just sitting down with a notebook to do some plotting, and some research, I'm trying to write a literary Sword and Sorcery tale. It will be "Bayne's Climb."

Maybe I'll succeed. Maybe not. But at the least, it should be fun.

Friday, February 05, 2010

No. 8 - The Narcissism Epidemic

by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D.

Started: February 6
Finished: February 10

Notes: I first saw this non-fiction book mentioned in an online forum, at the idea of it instantly drew my attention. It's a book about the cultural spread of narcissm throughout American society, so I knew I couldn't pass this one up. It's a subject I find relevant every day.

Mini review: If the Bible is right that the meek shall inherit the Earth, then America is screwed. Actually, a really solid look at the narcissistic culture that now pervades the U.S. I found it quite interesting the authors, one a staunch Democrat and the other a staunch Republican, for the most part stayed away from politics, though they did say at one point near the end of the book that this was intentional. I also found it interesting that this narcissistic culture is now so pervasive that most people don't seem to notice it. I do. Every single day. And it sickens me. Especially reality television, which glorifies the worst of cultural behaviors, and the "princess syndrome" so many parents and educators have with today's children. I try my best not to add to the problem, but I'm only human after all, an I'm stuck in the middle of this culture just like everyone else in the U.S.

SLICE: Seven Tales of Horror

My latest collection of horror short stories, "SLICE: Seven Tales of Horror," is now available for the Amazon Kindle and online at Smashwords.


Monday, February 01, 2010

No. 7 - The Book of Five Rings

by Miyamoto Musashi

Translated by Thomas Cleary

Started: February 1
Finished: February 5

Notes: I am reading this particular translation of this book while at the same time reading another version. I was drawn to this translation in part because the book also includes "The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War" by Yagyu Munenori.

Mini review: This translation was generally easier to understand than the other I read, but it was interesting to compare the two and to take note of different wording used in some places. Generally, this particular translation was more explanatory of certain words or phrases that could seem confusing when translated into English from Japanese. However, it wasn't because of the translation (I think), but I didn't care much for the additional text, "The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War." It seemed, in some places, to counter some of what was written in "The Book of Five Rings," and seemed overly ethereal in some places. "The Book of Five Rings" is actually pretty down-to-earth and straight forward, while also retaining flexibility. One thing I did like from " The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War" was talk of having "no mind" while performing certain tasks, sort of like having a clear mind while driving a car or shooting a gun or attacking with a sword; basically, for example if you are driving a car, your mind doesn't directly focus so much on driving the car because it will cause you difficulties in driving the car. Make sense? Kind of odd, I know, but it made sense to me. Another example would be shooting a bow. If you focus too much on shooting the bow, you will not be as accurate as you would if your mind was more free, not thinking directly so much about shooting the bow. What this means is, through physical practice and mental training, you become so familiar with doing a certain thing that you are good at it by not thinking about it.

No. 6 - The Book of Five Rings

by Miyamoto Musashi

Translated by Ashikaga Yoshiharu and Rosemary Brant

Started: February 1
Finished: February 4

Notes: This great treatise on Japanese swordsmanship, and somewhat on philosophy in general was written by its famed samurai author nearly four hundred years ago. I've been meaning to read it for some time. I came across two different translations, each which seemed quite a bit different from the other, so I decided to read both at the same time. One of the draws to this particular version of the book is that it actually has a Japanese translator. This book has been quite popular among the American business world over the last few decades.

Mini review: This particular translation is a solid example of why I decided to read two versions of this Japanese classic. This version is almost too literal in its translation, making for awkward reading in English. Still, the basics are there, and it's interesting stuff. I'm glad I read it, because it goes well with the other, more developed, translation I'm reading., allowing me to see two slightly different angles on this book that's mainly about the mindset of sword fighting. And not ritualized sword fighting as a sport, but sword fighting for survival, in war and duels.