Thursday, July 13, 2017

Karl Edward Wagner.

I rarely meet anyone these days who even knows who Karl Edward Wagner was. I knew him and exchanged letters with him and spoke to him a number of times at various conventions and writer gatherings. He was one of the most brilliant fantasists who ever lived. And he was from the South and part of Everywhere, and it's sad that so much of his work is forgotten. Wagner was a giant personality, but terribly flawed.

I say I knew him, but not really...and I don't want to give the impression that we were in any way close. But we would exchange letters from time to time. He even critiqued by work occasionally, for which I have always been grateful. But almost every time we would meet I would have to remind him who I was. Yes, this could have been partially because he was always drunk; but also because I am not a shining, glowing personality who is easy to remember.

I met Karl at least a dozen times. I always had to reintroduce myself. The only time he recalled who I am was when I saw him at an sf show in Atlanta not long before he died. He noticed me across the room and came over to chat. And although I said nothing, he could see the pure horror on my face and he stopped what he was talking about and said: "I have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever." Then he showed me red spots on his pale, emaciated arm. "That's why I look the way I do." I later found it was a story he had concocted to tell people who were similarly horrified at his physical state. He didn't have the Fever, of course, and was just dying of a liver that had ceased to operate due to his chronic alcoholism. But I could not hide the shock that was painted over my face. The last time I'd seen him he was his hale, hearty, vibrant Viking self. And then I see this sick, wizened, obviously dying old man. Noting that horror on my face, he had to say something.

Now...damn. It seems no one recalls him. Until recently his books were out of print in any affordable way. I had seen his novels and stories appear in the past decade or so, but in very expensive limited edition books far beyond the affordability of casual readers. This giant of fantasy and horror is completely out of the view of the reading public.

These days, I think you can land his fiction courtesy of the company who seems to have inherited the rights of the works that he published under the old Warner imprint.

I recommend his fiction as highly as I possibly can.

Karl Wagner during his healthier days.
Wagner and a rendition of his alter-ego, Kane, the Mystic Swordsman.

This is how most people became familiar with his work--through the Warner books paperbacks with those amazing Frank Frazetta covers.

Nihilism Pays.

Not too long ago I posted a review of the first season of the nihilistic TV show PREACHER. Although I found large sections of the production to be actually offensive, there were enough bright and humorous touches for me to like it as a whole. Part of that had to do with the very simple (and selfish) fact that I find Ruth Negga to be extremely attractive, and another part of it was that I saw so much comedy and humanity in the way Jackie Earle Hailey portrayed the character of Odin Quinncannon.

Last week--because I had enjoyed the previous season--I tuned in for the first episode. I wish I had not done so.

For me, all of the humor was gone. The nihilism was still there--in great abundance--but the humor was missing. What they were trying to pass off as humor was just a kind of sick arrogance that I found merely disgusting. When one of the heroes casually murders the pet of an innocent man, and that same innocent man in hunting for the lost pet has his tongue pulled from his living can see where I might be just a little bit put off. That's the point where I stopped watching, and that's the point where I decided that I won't bother with the show anymore.

Sorry, Ruth. Not even your presence can get me to watch another episode of PREACHER.
But nihilism these days seems to really pay in great dividends. All around the world of novels, comics, TV, and film, the worst of the worst seems to be in great demand. Novels that are nothing but racist gun-porn sell like mad. Movies that feature one inhuman murder after another are tops. I know this is nothing truly new, but the unrestrained excess of it has reached a point where I just cannot tolerate it.

Hell. Blame it on my age. Or on the point where my own level of tolerance has been saturated. Whatever it is, I've had enough.

Apparently the most popular cable TV show in the history of the medium is now embroiled in a vast legal battle over the billions (yes, you read that right--billions) of dollars it has generated for the network that aired it. I am, of course, talking about that Queen of Nihilism: THE WALKING DEAD.

That THE WALKING DEAD was copped from the work of George A Romero without remuneration to said fellow is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that while Romero's work was social commentary, the TV show gleaned from the vision of Romero and John Russo is just simple, nasty, violence-infused grue. But my how that shit sells! It has sold to tunes so vast that it has created its own self-perpetuating industries. Starting as a comic trimmed from Romero & Russo's zombie vision, it branched out into collected graphic novels, a TV series, video games, T-shirts, media conventions, etc. and so on. If there's a way to squeeze a dollar out of it, they have done so.

And enter now the original director and show-runner Frank Darabont who was chased away from the series and is now suing. There is something extremely satisfying in watching these Hollywood folk fighting over the steaming corpse of a visual property the way the rotting zombies struggle to get their piece of a recently murdered human.

I have to laugh.

There's still some actual humor to be found in the nihilism of true life.

For what it's worth, Mr. Darabont--I hope you win.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Where are the critters?

One thing that I am beginning to find especially disturbing these days is the almost complete lack of wildlife I am seeing when I go hiking and backpacking here in NC. Yes, I tend to go to very wild places where the animals are not accustomed to humans. And such animals are likely to be far more shy than critters who regularly encounter people.

However, I do a lot of exploring in wilderness areas and National Forest lands far off the beaten path. In years past I would see a fair number of wild animals. Over the past couple of years I am seeing almost none.

Take my backpacking trip last week into the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Now, that's a heavily visited wild area, but it wasn't what I would call crowded while I was there. My hike out I saw only a couple of people, and I didn't see one other person camping on Shortoff Mountain the night I stayed there.

Keep in mind that the title for my YouTube channel is "the Quiet Hiker" for a reason. I hike and backpack alone. I don't even talk to myself. If my sinuses are bothering me a lot I might breathe heavily, but that's about the only sound I make. Because of my quiet behavior I should see a fair number of wild animals. But...nothin'.

On my trip from Table Rock to Shortoff and back (about 12 miles round-trip) I saw one toad, one fence lizard...and nothing else. I didn't even see any birds. I heard some birds calling, but didn't see any. Not one. Not even a buzzard or a raven or a junco--birds that are pretty common when I go into the forests.

By this time, it can't just be the luck of the draw. I'm not seeing wildlife because populations are diminishing. It's very disturbing.

Lots of scenery. No animals.

The Black Mountains. Two days, one night. I saw zero wildlife, despite seeing no other humans.

The last time I encountered an animal of note while hiking--a grouse in Virginia over a year ago. Many, many miles hiked and backpacked since then.

A wilderness landscape absent animals.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Spacey Pipe Dreams.

I see once again news of the fact that the entire surface of Mars is not just dry, not only only barren, not merely bombarded with radiation, but also completely and utterly poisonous to life.

Enough with the fantasies and insanity that humans will go out into space and to alien worlds to live.

Colonization of other planets and points in deep space are nice ideas, but that's all they are. Getting there and creating a living environment is prohibitively expensive now and always will be. You cannot reduce the toxicity of a planet's entire surface. Humans did not evolve to live in zero G or even low G environments. We would die in either. The litany of dangers to colonizing space and planets with environments completely inimical to life is a sad pipe dream fit only for fiction. All very nice, but it ain't gonna happen. Not now. Not fifty years from now. Not ever.

We can't even stop ourselves from poisoning the planet that gave birth to us. How are we supposed to make a home out of locations that want only to destroy not just us, but Life itself? We aren't supposed to, and we can't do so.

What we need to do is forget about our greed, collectively reduce the human population in a sane manner, and stop consuming the planet that is the only place in the Universe where we are safe and relatively secure.

We're not going anywhere. Humans haven't even been beyond low Earth orbit in many decades; and we aren't going anywhere like that ever again. It's not just that it's too expensive, it's also that the world's collective wealth has been transferred from governments to individuals; and those richies ain't going to give any of it up.

So stop sucking on that pipe filled with opium dreams.

Mars. A dead planet. Dead in every way. You can't fix it. You can't live on it. Forget about it. It ain't gonna happen.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dehydration in Linville Gorge!

I might not have made it a full week past my 60th birthday:

Maybe the most physically exhausting day of backpacking of my life. It started out okay as I left camp at exactly 7:00 am. Maybe an hour and a half later I missed the main trail and ended up hiking down an unnamed spur trail. By the time I realized that I was not on the right trail I had descended a good 800 feet into the gorge, which meant that I had to turn around and climb back out! When I left camp I had what I figured was enough water to get me back to my truck. But climbing up the very steep trail in sweltering heat and humidity caused me to consume most of my water. Within a mile after returning to the point that put me once more on the main trail all of my water was gone. And I still had quite a ways to backpack. The forests in that side of the wilderness were completely wiped out by the drought-induced wildfire in 2007. So not only was I carrying my pack with no water and in hot weather, there was almost ZERO shelter from the sun.

I quickly began to become dehydrated. The only thing that I could do (since finding water was not an option) was to hike a hundred or so feet at a time and then rest for ten or fifteen minutes, hiding behind low shrubs for shade. A hike that should have taken two hours at most ended up taking me six hours. A nice couple from Tallahassee Florida gave me a liter of water that maybe saved me from passing out. As it is, drying out like that did something to my vocal chords. I can talk, but my voice sounds like I'm talking with sandpaper.

More later.

I love the National Forest Service signs for Wilderness Areas.

Approaching The Chimneys, one of my favorite areas of the Gorge.

Hiking down into Chimney Gorge on the way back up to Shortoff Mountain.

My campsite on Shortoff Mountain.

The whippoorwill in the night.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stone Mountain Hike.

Carole and I took her mom to Stone Mountain State Park Sunday for a picnic and quasi-60th birthday celebration for me. When it comes to NC high country, this state park is the most easily accessible for me. There are some lower monadnocks located closer (such as Crowders Mountain), but Stone Mountain is actually sitting in the midst of 4,000-foot summits and is definitely among the bigger mountains here in the Carolinas.

We got there early, picked out a picnic table and grill and soon got busy making hamburgers and relaxing by the table. Carole then drove me to a nearby trailhead so that all I had to do was hike up and over the mountain on the same trail that would dump me back out at the picnic area where they would be waiting.

The hike was a relatively easy one. There's just one big elevation gain at the beginning (about 600 feet, I think). I was having sinus problems so it winded me more than I'd like to admit, but it really is a simple, easy hike. I've always liked that trail, even back in the days when they didn't have all of the stairs and cables to help you over the roughest spots. The first time I hiked it back in the mid-80s there was nothing at all in the way of infrastructure on the trail except for painted orange dots on the exposed rock to let you know that you were on the trail.

Everything was really nice for that hike, including the weather. The temperatures barely broke into low 80s and the humidity was also very low. I got some great photos and video of the cliffs and views. Since it was on a Sunday, there were more people on the summit than I like to encounter, and I saw almost no wildlife--the exception being lots of white-tail deer off the main trail as I returned to the picnic area.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a quasi-birthday celebration.

Carole and Faye at the picnic spot we chose.

Pregnant doe at the edge of the forest.

Birthday selfie.

Although not on the summit, this is actually my favorite view on Stone Mountain.

The large crack on the mountain (actually an exfoliation scar) is the most popular climbing route on the mountain. This is where a lot of North Carolina rock climbers learn the sport.

A closer view of the climbing route called "The Great Arch".

Out of breath as I climb the slopes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Brief Review of Two Zombie Movies.

I watched two zombie movies last week. Yeah. Me. The guy who learned to hate zombie movies, stories, and novels. But I was bored and I caved to peer pressure. (What? I have zombie pals? In a manner of speaking, yes.)

Generally these days I absolutely loathe all things zombie. Such books and movies have come to appeal to racists, nationalists, and gun-crazed neo-Nazis. It almost makes me wish I'd never written any zombie fiction at all. That said, there were two recent-ish zombie movies that a lot of people kept claiming were good and worth watching, and I caved to the pressure.

The first one I tried to watch was THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. I'd been told it was a "new take" on the zombie trope. It was not. It sucked Holy Roman Ass. It had enough plot holes to drive an Armata tank through. Also, it had what may be the single most racist scene I have ever witnessed in a zombie movie; and brother believe me that was not easy to do. Avoid it. Piece of utter shit. That's all I'm going to say about that one.

The second film was TRAIN TO BUSAN. Everyone and his cousins had been telling me how good this movie is. But, you know--zombies. So I avoided it. Then on my son's birthday we were hanging out at his house and he told me that it really was good and we should watch it on streaming video. So we did.

Holy Hell! What a great movie! It's a Korean film, subtitled in English. (I hope they never dub it.) It's a great action movie with some truly wonderful characters packed into a two-hour running time. I mean...damn...very well rounded characters.

Not only is it a great action flick, it also has a dynamite load of subversive social and political messages going on. For one thing, I never expected a movie from South Korea to deliver such a powerful anti-capitalist message, but this one does; and effectively. The villains of the movie are personified in the two businessmen, one of whom evolves over the course of the movie, the other of whom only grows more detestable. I liked the fact that the two great heroic characters are working class--one a hulking weight-lifter of a man (played by Ma Dong-seok) who is a classic heroic figure, and who plays the part with a lot of humor (hard to do in a zombie movie). The other is described simply as a nameless "Homeless Man" skilfully rendered by Choi Gwi-hwa.

For a zombie film it is absent of much in the way of gore. There is blood, for sure, but no guts, really. One reason for this is that the transition from human to zombie takes place most of the time in a matter of seconds. And the purpose of the zombies seems to be to infect non-carriers rather than consuming them. The zombies are also the super-fast sort rather than the plodding Romero zombies.

At any rate, I can highly recommend this one, even if you're not a zombie fan (which I am not).
Here are my favorite characters from the movie.

Ma Dong-seok who is, I was surprised to learn, an American. He was my favorite character in the film. He played the part with a lot of humor and likability.

Kim Eui-sung as the vile, unrepentant, selfish capitalist sack of shit. It's not easy to play a role and to create a person who is completely corrupt and hateful. He does it with great skill. He's like a cockroach that won't die.

Choi Gwi-hwa as the "Homeless Man". Another wonderful performance. Andy and I both figured the actor for being Japanese, but apparently he's Korean. I admired how he played the this role carefully and resourcefully. Ultimately one of the most heroic roles in the movie.

And Yoo Gong as the privileged money manipulator who finds over the course of the film that he still has a soul.

Yeah, I know. Late to the party. But give it a view.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Too Many Humans!

To put it mildly, I don't like crowds. All of my life, places like rodeos, fairs, circuses, festivals, parades, marches, zoos, amusement parks...pretty much any kind of gatherings over a dozen people give me the creeps. I do like state parks and National Parks, because while the areas around the roads and parking lots can be crowded, I know that all I have to do is hike half a mile from the main arteries and I will find solitude and silence and peace.


Carole and I had decided to drive up to Roan Mountain where some of the best natural rhododendron gardens on the planet can be found. I've lived here in North Carolina for more than three decades and every year when the flowers are at their peak I have missed the show. I can't say why. So, this year we decided to drive up to Roan on Saturday, June 17 to see the flowers in what we'd been told were their peak.

We got to the area about 9:30 in the morning and immediately hit a traffic jam in Elk Park, TN. Why? Because the area was holding a RHODODENDRON FESTIVAL over the weekend. And we're not talking about a few hundred people. No. Tens of thousands had arrived as a mass to see the flowers and to attend a craft fair being held in Roan Mountain State Park. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was maddening stop and go as we approached the craft fair near the state park office.

After we passed the craft show, traffic opened up and got light the final ten miles to the trail head we wanted to use. Our plan was to park in Carvers Gap and hike a few miles up the Appalachian Trail to Grassy Ridge Bald where the best of the flowers were said to bloom.

Uh-uh. Wasn't going to happen.

Carvers Gap had become a mass traffic jam. The closest spot to park was about a mile either side of the Appalachian Trail. So a round trip distance of two miles would be added to any hike, and Carole was not up to that ridiculous shit. Truth to tell, even if I'd been alone I wouldn't have done it. The Appalachian Trail was like a human freeway. Hundreds of people were moving in a steady line headed for the ridges to see the rhododendron.


We stopped at a road block and spoke to a ranger and he suggested that we might be able to park and view the rhododendron at the old Cloudland Hotel site up on Roan High Knob. So we did this, only to find that the crowds were almost as bad there. The parking lots were almost full, but we found a spot to leave the car and began to hike the short loop trails near the summit. Only to find that they, too, were uncomfortably packed with humans. We often had to quite actually wait in line to walk past knots of people clogging the trail!

Yeah. It was about as close to a nightmare for me as it gets. Here I find myself in a place of natural beauty, but it's so crowded with goddamned people that I almost can't breathe.

With no other option, we chose to leave the area and head over to the Blue Ridge Parkway to hit Mount Mitchell State Park. Carole had not been there in a while and I had not made any backup plans for secondary hikes. Yes, I should have done a little more research, but I hadn't done that. If I'd known, we could have gone hiking somewhere else that was not being used by tens of thousands of people for a damned rhododendron festival.

We ended up on Mount Mitchell in alternating passing clouds and mild rain showers. Fortunately, the weather was good for some atmospheric photos (59 degrees!) and we ended up having a decent time, stopping to grill burgers and hot dogs at a picnic area. All in all, we did manage to salvage the day, which is a good thing. You know what they say: a bad day in the mountains is better than the best day in town.

Carole hiking at the old Cloudland Hotel location. Only two other humans visible in this shot, which amazes me. I got lucky and was able to avoid the several hundred others wandering around stinking up the joint.

I have to say, the flowers were gorgeous and most of them were either in, or approaching, full bloom.

This is the kind of crowds that make my skin crawl when I go to the mountains.

We found a nice picnic area and grilled out.

Lighter hued rhododendrons at lower altitudes.

Lots of flame azalea, also.

And plenty of Mountain laurel were still in full bloom, too!

The modern handicap accessible lookout on the summit of Mount Mitchell. A couple was sitting on Elisha Mitchell's grave (he's buried on the summit) having a good ol' time, I reckon.

Clingman's Peak from the summit of Mount Mitchell.