Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE DOG STARS

Recently I picked up the novel THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller. I almost passed on it for several personal reasons, but opted to get it and give it a shot.

I'm glad I did because the novel is pretty good. I don't think it's a great novel or a classic, but it was a lot of fun.

It's the story of a couple of survivors of an apocalyptic event that has pretty much wiped out the human race. One reason that I liked the book so much is that the author got the causes right for what is eventually going to do us all in: the environmental degradation that our species has inflicted on Mother Earth. The protagonist of the story, Hig, ofter refers to the mass extinctions we caused, the climatic changes we brought, and the damage we did to the planet. The final straw is a nasty flu virus that sweeps across the globe killing almost everyone who contracts it. And then that disease is followed by another blood disorder that inflicts a lingering death on those who survived the flu.

Heller did the story perfectly, to my way of thinking. These are all things that we have done to the Earth. We have fouled the air, and polluted the water, and ruined the land. It's as if we're all waiting for the big pandemic to come and put end on us. I can buy his reasoning because it rings so beautifully true.

Another thing that I liked is that the author kept things simple. For two-thirds of the novel we are presented with the narrator, Hig; his dog, and his fellow survivor--a very scary and imposing monster named Bangley who would be a villain in any other context but the one in which we find this lonely trio.

They are settled in at an abandoned airstrip surrounded by vast homes previously owned by the pampered millionaires who built their McMansions close to the small airport for easy access to their private flying machines. And that's another nice twist to the tale: Hig is an amateur pilot of some skill, and he uses his small plane to make supply runs to various places and to scout for the marauders--people who have also survived the flu but who are anything but nice folk. That's why he needs Bangley, who is only too happy to kill anyone who comes anywhere near their final redoubt.

The story was written in a fairly unique, affected style that was okay. I could see it as a way to illustrate the narrator's almost mortally wounded psyche. It's different enough so that you notice it, but not so alien that it gets on your nerves. I think Heller did a good balancing act here and I rather liked the take on what he did. That style changes as the book progresses, as Hig changes and grows and seems to become...different as the story unfolds. Different, if not exactly normal.

I can give the book a high recommendation.

THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Asshole Dog Owners

My wife and I once stayed overnight at a house with another couple--family members. We arrived a tad early to their house and no one was home. I could hear a dog raging in their back yard. Absolutely pure foaming-at-the-mouth raging. I encounter this from time to time in my job as a letter carrier. I'm kind of antsy and don't like to sit still, so I told Carole that I was going to walk up the driveway and have a look at the dog (it was behind a fence, so figured it would be fairly safe to just look).

The dog was there. A medium sized short-hair cur-dog of forty or fifty pounds, I'd say. Of no particular breed or type. It was the color of a maggot and had kind of a shrunken skull and a rat-like countenance. It was not a pretty beast.

The dog was in a froth of anger. At what? At me? At another dog that was nearby? I can't say. I assume that it's just a shit-crazy dog.

But sometimes I have learned that you can get some dogs like that to calm the Hell down by talking to them. So I did that, in a level voice that I hoped was soothing. It did no good. Instead, the dog seemed even more upset than before, almost going into a shaking bout of pure bloody fury. My wife came halfway up the drive and saw this monster and asked me to get away from it. She was not so foolhardy as I was.

So I left the creepy animal and retreated to our vehicle.

After a while our hosts appeared and we unloaded our luggage and were shown our bedroom. All seemed okay. We went out, had dinner, and returned to the house. We were shown around again...and then it was decided that they would see what would happen if they let this withering creep of a dog into the house. That is, they wanted to see how it would react to us. Their little drooling, chomping baby.

We were in a kind of activity room on the lower floor of the house. A sliding door was opened and the horrible animal came in. It did not come barreling at us, jaws ablaze, but it definitely did not like us. It growled and snapped. Instead of disciplining the vile thing, the owners comforted it and petted it and made it feel that its display of aggression was the right choice.

I realized that we were at the mercy of this mucking hound and its two clueless owners.

My first thought was to be honest and just leave the house. But this was family who I hadn't seen in some time, so I bit my tongue and took my chances. We weren't attacked, but I consider that just blind luck and my own caution.

It takes a special kind of asshole to put two human guests through something like that over an obviously vicious, inbred, mentally retarded canine. I've never forgotten it.

"Welcome!"

Beater

In the local parlance of comic collecting, the term "beater" refers to a comic book that is in extremely low grade that you are willing to add to your collection for various reasons. Usually, the reason is that you're having a hard time locating the issue in any condition at all, and you're going to let this one serve as a place-holder until you can locate a copy in acceptable and higher grade.

One of my oldest Charlotte friends (Tom Smith--no relation) is actually a customer on my mail route. We have the same tastes in old comics with a couple of shared passions: Silver Age Jack Kirby comics and Golden Age Carl Barks comics. He had recently upgraded his copy of Four Color #189 and, since I don't have a copy, he sold me his old, low-grade copy for what he paid for it in 2000! I was more than happy to get the book for about the price of lunch!

So, now I have a "beater" copy of the book in my collection. I'd been trying to buy one for some time. And I doubt I'll ever bother to upgrade it. This one is fine for me.

My low-grade copy of Four Color #189, starring Donald Duck and the nephews!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Too Similar?

Among my favorite writers of ghost and weird stories is yet another British author, John Gordon. Most of his work is considered for young adults, but almost all of it is exceptional in some way and can be appreciated by older readers. He excels at old-fashioned ghost yarns and for years I sought to buy a copy of his collection CATCH YOUR DEATH AND OTHER GHOST STORIES. But the copies I'd find were generally too expensive for my budget and I'd have to pass. Recently, I landed an original hardback copy, but as it has yet to arrive from the UK, I'll hold comments on the contents until it arrives (I'd read some of the stories therein, presented in the late Karl Wagner's YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES).

This week I read one of his more recent novels, THE FLESH EATER (1998). This is a young adult novel concerning a fellow in his late teens. I don't recall that his exact age is ever mentioned, but for some reason I assumed him to be between 17 and 19 years old. A likeable and physically imposing young gentleman with relatively wealthy parents who own a very large hotel in a village in the Fens. The hero, one Harry Hogge has the enviable quality of attracting pretty girls. And the girls are what get him entangled in a mystery that soon becomes rather dangerous and equally chilling.

 
The writing here is classic Gordon. Which is to say it's also classically Jamesian. The thing about the plot that eventually got on my nerves is that I realized about three quarters of the way into the novel that it's just a re-telling of "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James himself. It wouldn't have much bothered me except that it's so much like that classic story (the source material for the excellent film CURSE OF THE DEMON) that it got on my nerves. I could give it a pass if it had been a bit less like the story...but it is not. At a certain point the plots are pretty much paralleling one another.

Still and all, I'm glad I read it. I always learn something new about writing when I chance across a well-constructed novel. This is certainly a well written book, but I wish the plot hadn't been so much like something so famous from the author who has obviously most influenced Mr. Gordon.

 The creature, from CURSE OF THE DEMON.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Comics and Cats!

I'm way too tired and too busy to post much! No essays and no fiction excerpts! Sorry! Maybe in the next few days.

In the meantime, I picked up a nifty book for my collection. And here's a shot of our cat, Lilly, taking advantage of the nice warm bed after Carole got up to get ready for work. Lilly's no dummy!

As usual lately, I got a great deal on this book. I've been told that this issue contains the first professional comics work by John Romita, Sr.! I'm not sure, so I'll have to research it.

Lilly using the TV remote for a pillow! She's not particular!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Solo Backpacking Trips

I haven't taken a solo backpacking trip in a while. I'm beginning to plan for a multi-day backpacking excursion. To the extent that I'm not even sure when I'm going to take it. Likely it will be in the Fall. I doubt that I'll do any part of the Appalachian Trail because that place has become just way the heck too crowded for my tastes. There are some trail loops in the Great Smoky Mountains back country that I've wanted to traverse for some time, but again I'll have to make sure I won't be dealing with lots of people. I want some solitude, not bumping into big groups of people as I hike.

There are a couple of lesser used longer distance trails that I am also considering. The Art Loeb Trail has long been on my radar, and I'll check out doing a piece of that one. It's very high on my list of considerations. And there's the one that many people take when they don't want to deal with the AT crowds but want to hike for a number of miles without crossing over one road after another: Benton MacKaye Trail. And there's also the Bartram Trail.

I'm leaning toward the Art Loeb Trail because I could do the entire length of it in three days of moderate hiking. It would be easy for my wife to drop me off in the high country and pick me up where the other terminus lies at Davidson River.

We'll see. I just need to get out and find some solitude in the high country.

Middle Prong Wilderness.

With the exception of the cascade, all of these other photos were taken in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness on the NC/GA border. I'm not quite sure I recall where the photo of the small waterfall was taken.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Forget the Fun Stuff!

Various stuff that has entertained and educated and amused me over the years. See if you can identify 'em all! No prizes for anyone, if you do!


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

It Sold for HOW MUCH?!

Some years back, when I got out of the comic book retailing business, I swore off the industry. I didn't even want to write for the comic book industry anymore, abandoning my nascent career in selling comic scripts to various publishers. I was completely burned out on the literary/art form.

Years passed. For a long time I didn't so much as crack the covers of a comic book or enter the doors of a comic book shop. If I passed by a rack of comics in any kind of retail establishment I tended to ignore them.

But, somewhere along the way, nostalgia began gnawing at the old bones. So I picked up a few low-grade copies of The Amazing Spider-Man created/written/penciled/inked by Steve Ditko. I got a kick out of the books (I think they were issues #16 and #19), so I figured, 'What the heck? I could probably buy all of the Ditko issues in low to mid-grade without too much trouble'. So, I set about doing that.

Then I decided that I wouldn't mind owning a lot of the pre-hero Marvel comics that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created together, and I started collecting those, too. And then, I decided to take a crack at buying a complete set of Fantastic Four, but only the issues created/written/penciled by Jack Kirby.

I was, of course, hooked again on comics. And I've been at it for some time, carefully assembling a collection of the titles that I want the most and having no desire whatsoever to again enter the business of retailing at any level. But one of the things that amazes me is that I got back into it buying lower grade copies of the books I grew up loving. That way I could actually handle and read the books without having to worry about risking my "investment". And I do read my old comics, unlike so many who just pursue it as a kind of pure investment strategy, seeking to keep them in as high a grade as is possible

But something really weird has happened in the past couple of years. And it's that lower grade copies of the Silver Age books that I have been buying have exploded in value. Books that I thought would never be in high demand are just that. People are paying crazy prices for the kinds of books that I would once never have considered selling for anything more than pennies.

It's a crazy world.

My copy of Strange Tales 89, the first appearance of Jack Kirby creation, Fin Fang Foom. Kirby really liked alliteration.

My copy of Kirby creation Fantastic Four #8.

My copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1, created by Steve Ditko.

My copy of Strange Tales #114. Captain America returns! (Or does he?!)