Entry 0101: Return of Conan Reviews

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7-inch: House of Suffering Bad Brains

1986 SST Records PSST 065

Favorite Track: House of Suffering

 

The weather is rapidly cooling down and the air is brisk. A heavier coat is required when outside and I find a bounce in my step. Goodbye autumn, a friend but not as faithful as my lover, winter. Her cold kisses embrace me morning and night. The perfect time to sit and read by a fire, stretched out on a rug or pillow. I have just started the second Lancer book in the Conan series. The cover is one of Frank Frazetta paintings, which was also used for a Dust album starring Marky Ramone. Almost immediately into starting the first short story, I am drawn back to the clash of battle, the smell of death, the warcries, the desperation, the sneaky heists, and the lustrous women. Conan occupies a much simpler world: there is no good versus evil, there is only a question of honor and strength. As I crack open the cover of the book, I wonder what danger will Conan recklessly throw himself into this time?

*spoilers below*

“The Curse of the Monolith” – 2 out of 5 broken skulls

L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter

 

I was about to dismiss this story as the worst story yet, but for a grisly image during the ending. Perhaps it would be better in comic book format. The plot is simple and, at this point, the most common Conan plot. Conan is still serving in the Turan army and while delivering a message, the man he escorts tells him of a fabulous treasure. The two of them sneak off only for Feng to betray Conan. The story feels rushed with almost no characterization, a hastily and not convincingly hidden treasure is used to lure a suspicious Conan dumb, and then magnets! Now Feng could just kill Conan as he helplessly struggles to free himself from his armor, but, no, instead he pulls out a flute and plays a piping song that summons an amoeba. All of this is groan worthy until the writing suddenly kicks into gear and, for a brief moment, you wonder if Conan is going to die. Then Conan does what he does best and saves himself and throws Feng into the monolith so he meets his own amorphous demise. There is not much to discuss in this story so I will move on.

 

“The Blood-Stained God” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls

Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp

 

Once again, we get the tired Conan goes treasure hunting, begrudgingly befriends a companion who dies, and, ultimately, does not end up with any treasure than he started with. However, this is a pretty good tale and, most likely, a fun one to read out loud. Conan has finally quit the Turan army. A dying man gave him a map that has been stolen sometime before the story starts, so we begin with Conan searching the dangerous parts of a city looking for someone. We get an early fight scene and Conan is knocked unconscious while climbing a wall. He wakes to a stranger who has been spying on him, but willing to help. They set off on a chase for the treasure when they are ambushed, but the real excitement of the story starts when the cast of characters thins out to the main players. Then we get a hidden temple built into a mountainside, a hilarious death scene due to a trap door, and then the treasure–an short, squat apish statue that can become animated and throw people into a chasm. This story is about action. The landscape is described in lovely detail, but not really in an ominous or atmospheric way. Probably the best descriptions come with the trap door and Conan’s clever, but convenient fix. The story needs more time with Sassan, who could have been much more interesting–after all, he followed Conan around with him knowing and whose sudden greed for the treasure (his downfall) seems forced. Zyras and Kerspa also seem little more than names. Why is Kerspa so protective of his lands? Zyras is trying to kill Conan but allows him to temporarily join sides because of a Kezankian horde approaching? Are they particularly ferocious in combat or is Zyras a mastermind in betrayal? It would have been nice to have more background to these new cultures we are introduced to in this story. But the brutal ending proves the title right: it sure is a blood-stained god.

 

Another set of decent tales, but I am anxiously awaiting the next really good story. The next three stories all have promising titles: The Frost Giant’s Daughter, The Lair of the Ice Worm, and Queen of the Black Coast.

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Entry 0100: Jazzer Prose

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LP: Naked City by John Zorn

2016 1972 Records, if34, Reissue

Favorite Track: A Shot in the Dark

 

The jazz in my nose was getting out of hand. Fingers of it zooting and scatting around like an unfinished melody. Blood in my face constricted thinner than a sixteenth note. Walking diagonal through the crowd to get away from the stage but it’s brighter at the bar counter with twice as many tough guys acting petulantly.  I should have brought a book; had a quiet night. But, no, I’m trying to escape myself for one night–like truly escape myself. I want my thoughts obliterated. My ego exterminated.

Oh, hello there reader, you are trapped in the hell of my mind’s narration, which, I should warn you, is faulty. Since you are joining me in this song and dance, I should introduce myself, although if you find me talking in third person, please get our your eraser and finish me off. You are as much a part of me as I am of you, so don’t get confused. My name, for this number, is Zorro X. I’m 27, male, mostly white but I suspect my grandmother for some dalliances during the war, and a bit on the scruffy side. I used to write novels that got me in all sorts of trouble, but that stopped after I fell in love. She kissed me once and said my mouth tasted like peaches, which is strange because fruit and I haven’t seen each other since the second grade. We married for a bit, but then she left taking my typewriter with her. My eyes are hazel, sad-looking, and I nervously chew my lower lip some times. I’d go around nude in a cape and call it fashion but the police have to protect the children or someone these days. Maybe all their hands are itchy. Instead, I wear the same orange turtleneck, dark pants and darker shoes. I walk around like I’m pretending to be Tim Buckley, but, if I were to sing, I would hiss.

Why am I so determined to lose myself for a night? Well, you are here reading about me so I see you want to lose yourself too. But I can’t read and anyways don’t have the time for it. I’m all for kinetic energy. Death will come when I can no longer dance.

The band is really doing strange things on stage: the saxophonist is popping balloons with the horn and the drummer keeps making rainbow showers wet the front row. I’m getting a vibe that they are secretly summoning monsters. The creep factor is all over the place like a particularly hungry moss. There is a back exit just past the bathroom but I’ve got a pair of eyes on me from the shadows. A boy and a girl. The boy is an obvious nerd: skinny, glasses, poorly cut hair, nostalgic T-shirt. A real stereotype. The girl is a bundle of red curls, jewelry, and awkward bone structure. They are pretending to listen but they are trying to read me like you. If you are working for them, I’m going to ask you to stop. Double-crossing the author is a bad idea.

My fear only grows the closer I get to the bathroom. At first, I don’t even see the line, but then the people in the line are weird. Like something is going on in the bathroom that just may be very untoward…and this excites the line. There’s a couple of shooters, some pocket hands, a vomiter, and an old man making his own music like he was center stage and it was Woodstock all over again. I can’t see over all the shoulders and trench coats to see what is happening in the bathroom, but the light is flickering on and off. Smoke or steam has the mirrors fogged. There is a glimmer of movement.

And another glimmer as the boy and girl approach me. After this dance and song combo is over, reader, you and I have to talk. Sometimes I just don’t want to be myself but I always have to be someone when people talk to me. You are ruining my ride.

“Excuse me, Zorro, excuse me,” the girl says, her eyes wide and imploring. She’s not timid, I can tell by her gait, but she is timid now. Do I scare her? Intimidation is a weird game: you always do it when you don’t mean to.

“Yeah, who are you kid? Can’t you see something queer is going on in the bathroom and I don’t mean the fucking kind.”

“I’m Beets and this is the Count. He doesn’t talk much but we are big fans of yours.”

Oh shit.

The boy is looking for an autograph. He holds out a copy of Pantless Capeman Goes to Summer Camp with it open to page 137, which is my most illegal work. I tell you, dear reader, I always pick the wrong days to get all jazzed up.

“Look, don’t be flashing that in public. And besides, I’m a shell of a man I was. My name ain’t worth the ink in your pen.”

“But Zorro, you work Lizard People in Sacramento single-handily ousted a president. Love Bumps popularized orgies for years. And what can be said about Beefheart’s Undies, a collection so vulgar as to–”

“Yes, yes, Beets. I know my own career. The less said better. Look I’ll autograph it, take a photo, whatever makes you happy. It’s not that I don’t want to meet you fans, it just should have been one of the other 300 days in the year. Tonight, I need to not be Zorro X. Got it?”

The boy nodded and started to put the book away, but I snatched it out of his hands and started to scribble my autograph until I realized I drew a pair of titties wanking off an erect penis. Damn. I swear I was writing my name. Now the reader and these kids know I’m a full-fledged pervert. Well, this song is almost over and there are monsters out in the hallways now (I can hear the bloodcurdling screams and the rendering of flesh)  so there is no time to worry and I sketch my name around the balls because if you are going perverted you may as well let it all hang out there.

Beets continues to talk, “You’ve inspired me to do lots of things, Mr. X. I only drink coffee at 3 a.m., I listen to Tim Buckley but sing like a cat, I haunt the inside of people’s minds and I don’t wear underwear.”

Shit. These kids really studied up on me. And the underwear thing is bothering me in another way.

The bathroom line breaks up as what was going on in the bathroom reveals itself in shuddering, soul-destroying horror. Only one goofy tall man with wispy facial hair remains, pockethand working furiously.

“Okay, kids. We may as well snap that picture. I always thought that a book should end with a picture. You know, to let you know that you imagined everything wrong.”

They hugged me tightly as the camera flashed and then we were swallowed up.

 

Entry 0099: Campfire Tales Re-Write

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LP: Public Image (First Issue) by Public Image Limited

1978 Virgin Records, V2114

Favorite Track: Public Image

 

For this entry, I am going to take one of my previous blog entries and add elements from the library and see what happens.

 

“There’s a man in the woods…”

The recoil from the rifle shot still reverberated through the hollow with a rumbling decrescendo. Sparks snapped into the air, dancing and swirling through thick clouds of smoke. The 796.5 Club’s annual retreat to the Gorge was just settling down for the night. The five librarians sat on uneven stones more or less making a circle with a small gap on the sinister side. Two or three of them had glasses of amber liquid in their hands while the tallest boy dragged on a medicinal herb and passed it to the boy with the most spaced-out eyes.

He said, “The Federal Reserve is involved with five conspiracies. They got their hands on money. They got their hands on time. They got their hands on the work force. They got their hands on the government. They got their hands on space.”

The newcomer gave him a stern expression which immediately broke into a grin. She adjusted the shawl wrapped around her lilac sweater, mumbled about needing a heavier coat, and threw some dry sticks into the flame. “Is it always this cold when you go on this trip? I think the last time I was in the Gorge, it was a hundred degrees. Much more to my liking. And why is it called the 796.5 Club?”

The other woman answered, “That’s Dewey’s classification for camping. It was his dumb idea.”

Unaware he was being pointed at, the boy with the spaced-out eyes inhaled for several seconds, then continued his thoughts just as unaware that they were being vocalized, “There are wizards roaming our libraries They are profiting on selling time and distributing money that gets you high…”

“There’s a man in the woods…”

The tallest boy arched his head back to take in the stars. They were crawling around again, a fuzzy matrix of possible routes through different universes. For a moment, he wished they would just make up their collective mind and freeze in place so he could assign them names in case he ever had to ask them for future advice. When he shifted his head back down to the fire, the stars came with him, showering him in a silvery waterfall.

The youngest member of the club spoke to those who seemed to be listening. The uneven growth on his cheeks and chin partially concealed his baby face, but his soft voice and large eyes betrayed his underage status. “I’ve got a woman in my life now. Met her at karaoke at the Crepe Underground. Lovely nature, a kind soul, albeit a tad garrulous. I think I’ve only gotten two sentences in, which is probably why she is still dating me…”

The light illuminated about five feet from the fire so the cabin and most of the birch and oak trees were hidden in the darkness. Most of their faces were cast in flickering shadows, only a large nose, the whites of teeth, or elongated neck were visible. Someone swallowed some liquid. A waft of sweetness tinged the air.

“I should go back to the cabin,” the newcomer said against pleas for reconsideration. After adjusting her shawl again–it had became entangled with her long graying hair–she paused looking at the bottle, face breaking out into that grin which was made sharp by the shape of her incisors, and drank straight from the uncapped lid. “So what does the 796.5 Club actually do? Sit around and listen to the warlock here blabber–”

“Oh, he’s always like this on the first night. It is like taking him out of the library sort of unhinges him. He can’t exist without doing intense research all day long. You know, he comes to the library two hours before opening just so he can root around the stacks and peek at books in the John Dee Restricted Room. Now this girl, on the other hand, I bet she never has been to the library before. She keeps asking me what book I read that day, blissfully unaware that I have missing lists, music requests, and piles of books with incorrect labels to fix…”

Examining the many rings on her fingers, the youngest woman did not hesitate to refill her glass from the bottle. Her lilting laugh sounded strained when another blast from the hunting rifle echoed from far off. She shook the blue bangs from her face and launched into her own narrative, “A large crack of lightning struck the tree fifty feet from me. Splintered the trunk in half. A piece of the bolt broke off and bounced toward me like a rolling sphere of jagged purple spikes. Came at me before my eyes could truly register what was happening, but I knew the hairs were standing up on my arms and I had instinctively stopped breathing the hot air…”

“Stop quoting all the literature you read. Always with the scientific phenomena, the mystical experiences, the weird. You probably saw your bathroom light bulb burst when you went to vomit after a night of heavy drinking. And now you are trying to pass it off like a zen koan. That’s why I normally don’t touch the stuff (indicating the bottle in her gloves) but since all of you seem contend with freezing to death and I couldn’t find the cabin in the dark…”

“It’s weird being in love again after losing it. First, it was discovering that I missed it. Missed being in love, I should say. Loneliness had became so consistent that it felt natural…”

The fire was raging now. The smoke grew thicker obscuring the five librarians from seeing each other. The boy with glasses added more unnecessary sticks to the fire. The tallest boy looked up at the stars again, trying to lick each one. The bearded boy whistled a love song about a girl with curly crimson hair. Another rifle crack thundered around the ridge like shifting ice.

“They make twice the profits because they sell the public library its own time to use their own business, but we librarians have to pay for the time using Wizard Bucks, which we have to buy from a different Federal Reserve wizard who is using the library’s own copy machine to make the Wizard Bucks. And the wizards aren’t affiliated with the library so they can pocket this double cash…”

“I should have been dead but the ball lightning exploded soundlessly before my eyes and in its place floated a will o’wisp. Just hovering and beckoning me so I trounced off into the forest, away from the fire, heading toward Star Gap Arch…”

“There’s a man in the woods…”

A gust of wind cleared some of the smoke before the boy with glasses threw on more wood. The tallest boy noticed their were four boys sitting around the camp. A cup of bourbon sat on a rock. No sonorous whistling fluttered in the air.

“You are always reading that pulp garbage. Monsters wearing human skin, alien devices that can extend your mind to the ends of the universe, impossible maths. I’ve always said you needed to become grounded in reality. Take a fucking science course. Rotate in the same directional orbit as the planet you are standing on. By the way, where the hell is that herb?”

“Oh, now I see you smoking. You are quick to pass judgment but then partake in the fun. Maybe your science is just as corrupted as my occultism. And ball lightning is a scientific fact…”

“These wizards sell us our own atmosphere. Each breath enriches them. When Congress tried to extend the length of a moment,  they embezzled our tax returns to bribe lobbyists…”

“I’m experimenting. You know I discovered something interesting in the John Dee Restricted Room. Your supernaturalism is just scientific poetry. If you can make sense of the Book of Obfuscating Codes, the author is coyly letting the reader know magic is just science wrapped in religion to give the “wizard” or “witch” power, control…”

“There’s a man in the woods…”

“Not everything is a formula or a sigil. We can theorize and prove how the universe came into existence, but we do not have a clue as to why. And magic is a way to learn what is happening on the inside of life or, possibly, beyond life…”

“The library’s mission is to actualize every single person. Not just in our county. The world over. But we can’t if we are being controlled by budgets, space restrictions, and access points. We have to liberate ourselves from the wizards. Dismantle them and their symbols of power. We do not need a Dewey Decimal System, we need Chaos Control…”

A wide shadow stretched over the camp, hovering over the puffs of smoke rising from burning embers, and landing on a branch right along the cliff side. The bird was big from the sound of its weight swaying the branch. The joint made it back to the tallest boy, who puffed on it while nervously fingering his skinny tie. The smoke mixed with the darkness made his vision hazy, each tongue of fire seemed to be an amber crystal fractal pattern stabbing the neon black sky like the claws of some fantastical dragon. He was distinctly aware there were only three librarians sitting around the fire now. He glanced in the direction of the cabin but none of its lights were on. Surely someone brought a flashlight or head lamp?

“There’s a man in the woods…”

“Remember that story you told me about the Thing? Not the John Carpenter movie, but from that weird guy. An amorphous creature that haunted kids at sleepovers, threw knives with deadly accuracy, but whose Achilles Heel was a silver knife? Kind of ironic, if the author spelled out that it was killing all those children with knives that could kill it, but he wrote prose like a swollen eggplant…”

“Yet you can’t fight them. You would have to ask them permission first and they will make you do all this paper work and you’ll just cut your wrist while they fill out another Requisition to Draw Swords…”

“He must have gone back to the cabin. I am glad he found Emily even if she does wear him out. He won’t admit how much he needs her. And after all he has gone through, it is nice to see a smile on his face. Am I talking about love? That’s enough experimenting for me or I’ll start waxing my theory about Spock and James T. Kirk…”

In the blackness of space, the diamond moon began to put itself to sleep. The boy with spaced-out eyes couldn’t find his mug anymore but found another cup of bourbon and finished the rest of the rust-colored contents. It tasted more bitter than he remembered, but another puff and he was right back among the wizards.

“Wait, where did you even go with your ridiculous stories? You know I was kidding right? Always so sensitive. I like Poe and Machen and even Derleth can set a dark, unsettling atmosphere, but the woods are just woods. There are no monsters. There is no unspeakable evil out there in the beyond, watching and waiting.”

“Is the public library even real? Maybe we are all patients in an asylum and our neuroses and disorders have made half of us pretend to enjoy organizing chaos and the other half to linger all day in a vast warehouse of knowledge and not want to touch a single tome. That would explain 99.9% of the reference desk shifts…”

The silence was thick enough to breath like smoke, however, no one had added wood in quite a while. The pile could last them another night, perhaps two if they were crafty. The logs that had roasted for the longest began to split into fat square embers spitting sparks with pops and crackles at an insistent rate. Rubbing his spaced-out eyes underneath his glasses, he tossed the finished joint into the flames. Sitting alone, he realized that none of the cabin’s lights were on. He couldn’t even tell if he was facing True North. His desk at the public library seemed far away. He longed for the research he kept locked in the upper drawer. Not that it would do him good here in the woods where even the rifle shots had stopped. Fear crawled intolerably slowly through his body as if something was really touching him with some paralyzing caress. There were real horrors out there. He had proof but not truth. Just an indication and, in many ways, that was more terrifying than ball lightning or lost love…

“There’s a man in the woods…”

As the diamond moon sunk so did the embers extinguish themselves. The tallest boy stood above the other boy, wiping the blade of a knife on his maroon-stained skinny tie. A vast shape danced in front of his face, eyes twinkling in stark, utter chaos.