Monday, November 13, 2017

Suckage.

The television show "The Black Mirror" sucks ass. Friends and acquaintances need to stop recommending that lame, obvious, bloated bullshit show to me.

Once again, "The Black Mirror" sucks ass.

It needed to be said. You can go now.

To Hell with this stupid, damned show.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

HP Lovecraft

I was both horrified and amused in recent years as a cadre of sick, twisted, authoritarian no-talent shitheads did their damndest to remove the image of HP Lovecraft from a mildly well known (but largely insignificant) literary award. Every few days the Internet would bring me the news of what these almost brainless louts would have to say about how the little bust of Lovecraft enraged them, or made them angry, or--and this was the best--offended their odious, worthless sensitivities. (This is their code word and their mantra. Things offend them.)

Alas, these punks succeeded in their stinking efforts to remove Lovecraft's name and image from their tiny circle-jerk awards ceremony. Well, I suppose they enjoy lathering the Vaseline upon one another's nether regions every twelve months. Let them have their moment of disgust.

After this went down I kept seeing one after another of these talentless shitheads droning on and on about what they term Lovecraft's worthlessness as a person and a writer or, if they were feeling magnanimous that day, the overrating of his body of work.

Yes, even Lovecraft's most ardent fans will readily admit that his purple prose is an acquired taste and that his fiction is sometimes riven with racist imagery. It was, as they say, a product of its time, and HPL was a result of his era and social station. That does not remove the importance of what he did any more than what any flawed human being did in their life both within and outside of their art. I don't see any of these morons trying to burn down Allen Ginsberg or Will Eisner, both of whom have awards created in their names, both of whom are guilty of offensive actions in their professional and personal lives.

At any rate, this all got me dwelling on what it was about HP Lovecraft that made him and his fiction so important and so influential. The following is why his stories became such seminal works. In addition the fiction of the anti-Lovecraft louts will be totally and utterly forgotten the second they are dead or otherwise unable to engage in their magical circle-jerk. And the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft will still be published, will still be read, and will still be imitated, will continue to influence many writers who will come.

And this is why Lovecraft and his works are deserving of respect.

Here's the thing about Lovecraft: He was an atheist. An adamant atheist. He believed in not one speck of the supernatural. Nothing. They also called themselves at that time, "realists". If it could not be detected or proven, then it was likely false.

So...a truly guilty pleasure of Lovecraft's was supernatural fiction. He loved the stuff. He reveled in it. Combined with his ironically Puritan ethics, such guilt must have driven him close to bats struggling with the incongruity of it all.

Thus, to assuage his guilt and put the matter to bed, he was struck with the spark of brilliance to create fiction in which the supernatural was given a SCIENTIFIC origin and principle.

This is the genius of Lovecraftian fiction. It puts the shade of supernatural within the realm of what is real. There is no magic, only science. There are no gods, only alien beings. Evil has no place; but cosmic indifference to squalid, tiny, insignificant Man rules the universe.

Therein lies the art of what Lovecraft did with horror/supernatural fiction. Nothing was the same after he created his literary work. It has dominated horror fiction and fantasy since the day he began to publish these works.


The whiny cadre of modern literary worms care not one whit for art. They only bother about themselves, all of whom will soon be forgotten and extinct. I have no doubt that they would dearly love to burn Lovecraft's books, but that would be too obvious.


The busts--created by artist Gahan Wilson--which so offended the worms.


Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the writer whose works offended the worms.

And yet, somehow, some way, for some reason, the man who created this image fails to upset any of the worms. They are not, for some inexplicable reason, offended by his name and reputation being touted and announced and celebrated every year for another award largely among a similar and connected genre literary ghetto.



Hideous, offensive, racist image created to demean and dehumanize, from the pencil and pen and mind of Will Eisner. Somehow I don't hear any voices raised over this offensive image of a widely published character that influenced millions of people in its day. Why is that?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beauty from Disaster.

My last two trips to the North Carolina high country were to a pair of areas that are actually parts of the same ecosystem and lie cheek by jowl. The two are at very high elevations with one slightly lower (relatively speaking) than the other.

The first of the two I chose to visit was Graveyard Fields. It's located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is an extremely popular spot on that National Park-administered roadway. The first thing that strikes you about the place when you hear about it is its name: Graveyard Fields. How the heck did it get such a macabre term to describe it? As simply as possible, it got that way due to Mankind's tendency to create ecological devastation.

In the case of Graveyard Fields what we have is an enormous, flat, high elevation valley. The mean altitude there is roughly 5,100 feet above sea level. For eastern USA that is extremely high for a valley of this type. It sits on the northern shoulders of the highlands that are among the tallest in the state. Several peaks of over 6,000 feet above sea level loom over the valley. And the floor of Graveyard Fields is wide and moderately level creating a vast plateau where streams meander in shallow pathways that are almost without banks and nearly forming braided patterns like some western streams down in glacial valleys.

So...how did it get that name? Well, we can thank the rapacious timber companies of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries for that. When railways came to western North Carolina and penetrated the high country (thanks to government sponsored tax dollars), the timber firms found that they at last had access to the highest and most rugged territory in eastern North America. Finally, the timber barons could get their mitts on those untold thousands of square miles of virgin hardwood and evergreen forests. And grab it, they did!

Over the course of a few decades those companies turned untouched forests of cove hardwoods and dark spruce expanses into ruined clear cuts. They left nothing but stumps and dead limbs and took out the vast trees that had stood tall and strong since before Europeans had set foot on the continent. Within the blink of an eye they left the forested summits and peaks as denuded, ruined landscapes.

The mountain men who had ended up in the high country after chasing away and killing the native Cherokees looked upon the valley and, seeing no trees but only the shortened stumps of the trunks that had once greeted them, instead saw something else--a gigantic graveyard full of dark tombstones stretching toward the heights. How fitting that they saw death where once had been life.

The same fate befell the enormous mountain peaks that rose above Graveyard Fields, which I hiked a week later. One of the tallest of these peaks is Black Balsam Knob. At 6,214 feet above sea level, it had been named for the dense forests of red spruce and Fraser firs that had clothed it in forests so lush and so dark that from a distance they appeared not green, but black. Black like shadows. Black like the rich, peaty loam that fed and sustained those trees. The timber barons took them all, leaving nothing whatsoever. No patches of forest to replenish the land. No seed stock to repopulate the ridges. For the first time since the last Ice Age these giant eastern peaks were bare of forests and were suddenly just dirt and stumps and the drying trash of wizened limbs lying on the ground like flammable tinder.

And, as was repeated over and over up and down the spine of the high Appalachians, these very tall summits and ridges were struck by drought. Streams dried up. Springs failed. The skies did not give up rain and the remains of the vast forest cuts became like matchsticks, the once moist peaty soil like parched brick.

After that, all it took was a single lightning-generated spark.

Those high lands went up. The mountains became a roaring Hell. The stumps burned. The limbs cast aside like trash were like fuel in a fireplace. Even the soil, once several feet deep, packed with carbon similarly burned not unlike a vast thousand-mile blanket of coal. Yes, the dirt burned until all that was left of the ecosystem that had birthed the forests were mountains from horizon to horizon cooked down to rocks and the most basic of mineral soils.

And, of course, eventually the rains returned. Gully-washers. Cloud bursts. Thunderstorms. Floods vast and powerful swept these great mountains and if there was any soil left to feed any returning vegetation it went flowing down the creeks and valleys toward the lowlands, fouling the waters, wrecking the fisheries, sending the stored centuries of fertility down and down toward the coast where it was wasted in the seas.

After that, there was nothing black at all about Black Balsam Knob.

Graveyard was indeed a fitting term for what remained.

It has been well over one hundred years since the timber barons raped these mountains and scoured away everything of value that was growing in this place. And the winters at these altitudes are severe. The heights are raked with powerful prevailing winds and shocked by ice and snow and temperatures that rival those one would expect a thousand miles to the north. Even if the grasses and shrubs could find some sustenance among the rocks and rubble, the cold adds yet another barrier to the recolonization of these ridges by the forests looted and gone.

These days what one sees in the heights we call the Shining Rock Wilderness is a false kind of alpine environment. Our southern Appalachians--even our highest peaks above 6,000 feet--do not create true alpine zones. But exposed here due to environmental rape and harsh winters and denuded soils we have false alpine spots. Shrubs and grasses have managed to come back, and there is the beginning of a new topsoil just starting to form itself again. The spruce and firs are merely starting to poke their needles toward the skies. It will probably take two or three hundred additional years before the stone and sand of Shining Rock and Black Balsam Knob will be clothed in a dark, green, billowing cloak of verdant forests.

Yes, there's a kind of beauty there in the open vistas and grassy flats. But one must understand that it is there because of a monstrous crime; the rape of Mother Earth.


No balsams these days on Black Balsam Knob.

The soils that have been built up are shallow and fragile and easily eroded.

Foot traffic reveals that just below the inch of so of soil is an even more shallow layer of easily removed sand.

In Graveyard Fields one sees some patches of beeches and spruce trees beginning to make a presence.

In the flat, damp expanse of Graveyard Fields some shrubs and grasses have established dominance.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part I.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part II.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wandering

Since Carole's health is pretty much back to normal I went on a one-day hike on Monday. I traveled up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and parked at Graveyard Fields where I wandered around that unusual high-elevation valley to see a couple of waterfalls and to drive up to the Shining Rock Wilderness trailheads to take some photos. After that I drove toward Looking Glass Rock to hike to the base of the cliffs where the rock climbers go to scale the mountain.

Briefly, that filled my day. I'm hoping to head back to the high country early next week. Maybe for an overnight backpacking excursion in the same general area.









Saturday, October 14, 2017

Art Imitating Life

When my wife and I were first married we flew up to Maine for a vacation. One day we drove to Lubec to visit an old pulp writer I knew (Ryerson Johnson who--among many other jobs--used to write the old Doc Savage stories). After we stayed with him a while we drove out to West Quoddy Head Island to see the famous lighthouse. As we were driving along the causeway we looked out to sea and noticed a weather phenomenon you would have to have witnessed to believe. It was so visually horrifying that it felt like my guts froze solid. We pulled over on the deserted stretch of road and climbed out of the car to look at it. Trying to describe it is a worthless act. You'd have had to have been there.

Out on the ocean--the COLD North Atlantic--was what appeared to be a solid wall of white, as if sheared off with geometric perfection, flying along the surface of the ocean and extending high into the sky. No imperfections. No iterations. Just this solid wall of white headed for us across the vast, dark sea; as if someone had used a giant ruler to create it.

"What is that?" I barely heard my wife ask.

"Some kind of front. I think. I've never seen anything like that. I've never HEARD of anything like it."

We nervously climbed back into the car and drove on to the island where the lighthouse was located. By then the front had reached us, and by then we were in the trees and so had been spared seeing it actually arrive. We got to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse parking lot and stopped. The fog was so thick that visibility, even in daylight, was a few feet. We could only see the lighthouse when we got out and walked right up to it along the pathway.

After about fifteen or twenty minutes the fog began to lighten a little. Not enough for it to vanish, but visibility was better and it actually felt like the sun was somewhere above us.

A few years after that I read Stephen King's novella "The Mist". In that story he describes something almost exactly like what we saw on the causeway. I wonder if King was around there that day. If not, then it must mean that this kind of thing happens now and again in Maine.

Frankly, even though at the time I kind of knew what it was, I really don't ever want to see it happen again. It was that disturbing a sight.

(This is where we were headed. I didn't take the photo of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.)


As a point of silly trivia, the easternmost point of land in the USA is WEST Quoddy Head Island. This is because EAST Quoddy Head Island is in Canada.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shazam!

I was recently told that there is a serious movement afoot to make a feature film about the very early superhero character, Captain Marvel. Not the one from Marvel Comics, but the original character once published by Fawcett Publications. DC Comics sued them in the 1950s because the book (and all of its spinoff titles) had become more popular than Superman. DC argued that Fawcett had intentionally copied Superman and so they took the matter to court. They won. Why? Because, under oath, the team of writers and artists who had put their heads together to come up with what were then called "costumed characters" admitted that they had been instructed to do just that: come up with something as similar to Superman as they could make it.

The loss of the lawsuit put Fawcett out of business. At the time they were one of the most successful and popular comic book publishers on the planet. One month their books were on the stands making tons of money, and the next they were gone. DC's win, in essence, gave them ownership of Fawcett's titles and characters. Their wish was to quash Captain Marvel, and that's exactly what they did, burying the superhero for well over a decade.

But that's not what I wanted to cover here, very briefly. The thing I wanted to mention is that one of the creators in that room--the artist CC Beck--was known for using movie stars upon which to pattern the physical appearances of his characters. For whatever reason, at that time he considered that the then-youthful Fred MacMurray was the perfect physical type to be a superhero.


And so, he illustrated Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) to resemble MacMurray.

The inspiration.

All in color for a dime.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

TV

My wife has been ill lately and so I haven't been able to go hiking as I normally would do. Needing to be closer to home I have turned to reading and watching TV and movies for leisure activities. Thus, I have been able to buy some new books and sit in front of the television and watch some shows.

One TV series that I watched was the AMERICAN GODS show on streaming video. I watched all of the episodes and what held me was not so much the premise or the scripts or any deep characterization or messages, but a few bits of good acting and casting choices.

The series (as was the novel) is based upon the idea of the fading away of the old gods (Nordic, Greek, various African, Asian, etc.), and the rising of newer deities based on the obsessions that modern humans have with technology (TV, computers, iphones, etc.). It's not a terribly clever premise and to tell you the truth I was not impressed with it either in prose or television format.


One of the big reveals in the series is the person of one of the major characters, Mr. Wednesday. We know he is a supernatural being, that he is a very big deal, but the average person is supposed to not know who he really is. Great Jove, I hope that people are not that simple-minded and stupid, but I suppose this is true. Ian McShane portrays Odin/Wotan about as he should be portrayed. It's rather a predictable performance...but you know what? I kind of enjoyed watching him do it.


The main protagonist is a man named "Shadow Moon" played by an actor named Ricky Whittle. He's an atypical liberal wet-dream kind of a cypher and I was not impressed by either that character or the actor doing the role. He's a decent enough performer, but there is nothing inspired in said performance. It's all very workmanlike. I also wearied of Shadow Moon constantly being amazed and bewildered by the things he was seeing when it had already become obvious for anyone else that he was walking amidst various gods and demons and their metaphysical hangers-on.


And this is what bugged me most about the series, and about Gaiman's writing in general (ever since his days penning perfectly precious comic books for goths and liberal goofs): there's nothing original there. It's all a reflection on things that have gone before, created by civilizations great and minor and being hauled out and fluffed up for modern viewing. Nothing new. All kind of tired and pathetic, really.


After a few episodes of this ceaseless copping of various cultures, all while being used to hammer us ceaselessly with the idea that conservative thought is bad and liberal speak is good, I began to grow very, very weary of it. But I kept going, more out of curiosity of how the actors might perform than by being hammered over the skull with one bleeding heart opinion after another couched in the language of the holier-than-thou smirk.


One episode which seemed at first to go completely off-rail--almost like something David Lynch would do--was a flashback to the 1700s wherein we are given some really waaaaay back back-story for Laura Moon (Shadow Moon's wife), featuring her great-great-grandmother hailing from Ireland and ending up in the New World. What this episode was revealed was nothing more than a condensed retelling of The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders penned, it is said, by Daniel Dafoe. Again...this is the kind of thing about Gaiman's work that grates on my every last nerve. The dredging up of classic mythology and classic literature to use as substrate for his modern fiction. There's something there that I find rather dishonest in it all.


Still, that episode did obliquely co-star the character of Mad Sweeney who is actually a leprechaun who features prominently in almost all of the episodes. We see him a couple of hundred years ago and understand a little of perhaps why he keeps showing some amount of guilty attention toward Laura Moon. Still...it shouldn't have taken the hijacking of Dafoe's work to do that. Pablo Schreiber (half brother of the more popular and well known Liev Schreiber) regularly turns in the best acting in the show as Mad Sweeney. So there was that.


Later in the season--and I was waiting for it--there was an episode that reveled in its debasement of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. While I am not myself a Christian, I am always irked to see how the liberal set like Gaiman and company rarely sidestep a chance to make light of Christianity as rudely as they can. I could almost understand it if it was coming from the pen of an adolescent recently freeing himself from the yoke of tradition and the pedestrian. But this is all supposed to have been written by adults. Well...maybe emotionally stunted adults, or folk with a specific agenda to sell.


As I said, I kept watching because the series does have some good actors putting in some fine work. I never get tired of seeing what Peter Stormare brings to the screen, and his portrayal of Thor is good, with a helping of the humor he generally brings with him. Chloris Leachman is strange and vulnerable as an aging goddess. Crispin Glover is his usual, creepy, demented self as Mr. World, the top of the pyramid of neo-gods. And Gillian Anderson does some good scenes as Media, a kind of Hera to Mr. World's Zeus. Some scenes she does amazingly well, and others she shoots for the stars and falls back to low Earth orbit. But that's better than most actors.


All in all, it kept me from being totally bored when I wasn't reading, writing, or working my part-time job. But given the choice, I'd much rather go hiking or discover a new author to keep my mind busy. I doubt I'll bother to stream the series next season. (I will assume there will be a next season.)



"Mr. Wednesday." Oh my! Who could he really be?!