Book Review: The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard by Robert E. Howard

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The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard by Robert E. Howard – Available Here

When you exist as a contemporary to Lovecraft you’re already in something of a bind when you write horror stories. Like it or not you will be compared and that’s…a difficult prospect. Now when you are also his BFF and their endless piles of correspondences between the two of you, the comparisons are no longer obligatory, but mandatory. And once more, when you find yourself altering your future stories based on ideas Lovecraft gave you, you’ve effectively attached yourself to him like an insecure younger brother. This is not to say that Robert E. Howard was not an excellent writer in his own right, he was. He was and to my limited knowledge remains the master of dark violent adventure.

I think Stephen King was right when he said there are three tiers of horror: 1 – The Gross-out, the gore and guts, 2 – The Horror, the unnatural moving and seething around you, and 3 – The Terror, the phantom wrongness that exists in every direction and yet never comes to view. Howard’s horror exists firmly between tiers one and two, his prose thrives in the viscerality of movement and action over anything near the psychological. There are guts, grotesque creatures seething through cramped tunnels, but only occasionally does he manage to find his way to that place overwhelming terror.

As a sort of primer to Howard’s work, I can see the collection going quite well, you get introduced to a sort of prequel Conan (as a gaelic reaver of all things), Solomon Kane (though they selected Hills of the Dead as opposed to the much more haunting Wings in the Night), Bran Mak Morn (Worms of the Earth is easily my favorite in this collection), but none of them are the best foot forward, which is a shame.

Many of the stories included here exist without the characters that most are familiar with, replaced as they are with generic Texan men saying and doing obviously stupid/ominous Texas things before the horror of the month arrives. They were bodies made to engage, and as need be, succumb to horror, and at that point they are an impediment to what you’re trying to accomplish.

I was surprised to realize how much I enjoyed the poetry that was included in this book. The horror in these poems is palpable in a way that few of the tales ever really manage to muster. They almost beg to be read in dark forests, seas, and faraway lands. Horror lies in absence and poetry is absence incarnate.

And as with any author who kills themselves, he left a great number of writing fragments. Prone as he was with writing sketches and then moving on to other things there seems to be an almost inordinate amount of them in every Del Rey collection. I understand the need to pad the page count in some instances, but I’m not sure broadcasting the naked half-thoughts of a writer is ever worth doing next to their whole and completed work. Now, shame the dead with a separate volume of incomplete thoughts? Sure, a man’s gotta eat, but here they just come across as out of place, ideas shackled to a history and mind that didn’t stick around long enough to complete them, which I guess is an existential sort of horror, but I do that enough outside of books, I really don’t need publishers piling on as well.

I suppose it would also behoove to mention that there is also a bunch of sexism, racism, and generally archaic modes of thinking in this book. If you can’t take that in the context of his time and appreciate what lies past you probably also believe that Huckleberry Finn deserved to be censored, in which case we should make sure never to meet as I guarantee we will end up screaming at each other.

‘”Aye,” he growled, “I am a Pict, a son of those warriors who drove your brutish ancestors before them like chaff before the storm!–who flooded the land with your blood and heaped high your skulls for a sacrifice to the Moon-Woman! You who fled of old before my race, dare ye now snarl at your master? Roll on me like a flood now, if ye dare! Before your viper fangs drink my life I will reap your multitudes like ripened barley–of your severed heads will I build a tower and of your mangled corpses will I rear up a wall! Dogs of the dark, vermin of Hell, worms of the earth, rush in and try my steel! When Death finds me in this dark cavern, your living will howl for the scores of your dead and your Black Stone will be lost to you forever–for only I know where it is hidden and not all the tortures of all the Hells can wring the secret from my lips!”‘ – Robert E. Howard, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

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Book Review: The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab – Available Here

You remember the capitalism from the 1950s? No? Me neither. I’ve heard loving stories of a by-gone era, but I was born in the eighties and the capitalism I grew up with was the kind that meant morality is only good as a weapon against the weak, and having friend’s means having a greater number of bodies to throw at the bus as it comes charging for you. Agree or not with the details or overall point of my understanding of the world, I think it a generally agreeable statement that the version of capitalism that we have had since the revolution of computing has been set in stone. We have honed the system to monolith cognizant and drunk on its own necessity. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor.

But there is another one coming and Robert Schwab makes a very strong case for its importance and the shake-ups it will cause in macro-economical sense. In a world of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and ubiquitous micro computing those who don’t invest heavily in this future stand the very real threat being driven out of business as consumers look for more and more personalized experiences.

The only problem is that the opinion Schwab gains from his own data is infinitely more optimistic (no matter how cautious it may be) than mine upon reading it. He’s sees the potential for good things in this future, where corporations will reconsider taking and taking and taking to drive more zeros after the one.

Upon reading this book you might even feel yourself slipping into that mindset: a return to sympathetic capitalism (if it ever existed, I’m pretty sure I’ve just been fed rose-tinted bullshit my entire life), a place with more chances for the go-getters, anyone with a 3D printer and a dream can become a millionaire overnight!

Except not really. Unlike the last Industrial Revolution, the jobs being supplanted by machines and made redundant are not being replaced by anything new, there are just…fewer jobs. He also acknowledges that the income disparity between rich in poor is quite likely only going to get worse. Schwab doesn’t offer much in the way of platitudes, which I appreciate, it just makes it very, very hard not to think either he knows some grand and miraculous secret, or he has gazed into the void long enough that if this last line of defense from our future falters for even an instant, he will crumble into an ass ball and like some sort of economist Nietzsche.

For positive or negative, Schwab makes it pretty clear that the mercenary economies of Lyfy, Uber, and various Smart Contracts are the way forward in the next forty years. With the exception that you can’t do the first two because driverless cars are taking those jobs. So unless you want to try your hand as some sort of chauffeured sex worker it’s probably going moment to moment in terms of cash flow, and an even greater forest of debt to navigate in order to qualify yourself as financially solvent.

But hey, the toys will be cool.

“The more we think about how to harness the technology revolution, the more we will examine ourselves and the underlying social models that these technologies embody and enable, and the more we will have an opportunity to shape the revolution in a manner that improves the state of the world.”

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Valhalla

Slothing through the field, our swords meet, I stab the guy, his buddy eyes me, but it’s like, “Why?”, you know? Whatever, he’s dead. I don’t care. I doubt he does either. It’s like, yeah I get it we’re at war, but so what? He got me yesterday, I got him today. Colonel wants a body, I’ll give him one, but just don’t expect my heart to me in it. Least they could do is splurge on some new souls every once and a while. Sure, Egil’s dead, well, not moving, I guess, it’s more a moment than anything. Dead now awake in the morning. It’s…tedious I guess. Always thought it was supposed to be perfect and wonderful, spent all this time praising deeds and verses, and now what? Just another day in Valhalla, another night in Hel. The mead’s good, but when that’s the only mead you ever have. Even something horrid, when scarce, gets a sort of value. What I wouldn’t let bleed for a cone of Bjornson’s Ale. Disgusting, lacquered goat liver, but, to be able to feel again…

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Book Review: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

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Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami – Available Here

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again just for the sake of posterity: Murakami and I do not agree on the fundamentals of writing. He creates yamato-e paintings. Giving you the tangible as he deems necessary as well as a handful of other observations about his personal infatuations (e.g. cats, jazz, and Japanese food). The rest of the world outside of these things might as well be covered in clouds, blank canvas surrounding the page. Which works for him, as one of Murakami’s greatest interests is human isolation and the ways it can control us, turn us on ourselves in strange ways. Only in isolation can surreality surface without risking the slip into laughable absurdity.

When asked by one of his translators about the meaning of a certain symbol or phrase within the book he was working on, Murakami’s response was something akin to, “you’re thinking about it too much.”

As a single novel, I can get that. I can shift my brain and enjoy the strangeness for what it is. I did that easily in Kafka on the Shore. I even managed it with Hardboiled Wonderland, but when that is literally one of the only modes you engage in for twenty years with an additional armful of repetitive creative crutches, I get annoyed.

His short story collection Men without Women, offers very little in the way of change. I get the sense that a lot of these stories came around his last novel The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki as they are mostly less concerned with the surreal and dream-like topics that we are the most familiar with, and instead hedges towards the realm of the personal. He contemplates the nature of love, it’s fragility, and the struggle to find meaning when the thing societal fairytales told us could make us happy, be made perfect, is proven not only wrong, but as arrogant and deluded a prospect as one could possibly imagine in the totality of human want.

Or perhaps as Murakami told his editor I am overthinking it and it’s really all just a Freudian obsession with penises and their function in an increasingly emasculated culture where conflict resolution means running away with either your ears plugged with repressed emotions or simply lying to yourself every day for the rest of your life.

Regardless of my opinions, Murakami remains and likely will forever be the man he has been for the last two decades. If you like him, you’ll at least enjoy this. This collection is not brilliant, but it is Murakami. Besides the try-hard pseudo-poetic titular story at the end of the book, the stories work in the way all his short stories work: he writes and writes until pathos reaches a certain height and then he walks away. A fine enough way to write a short story, but one that presents diminishing returns stacked so many time on top of each other.

The reason I keeping coming back to Murakami is because he has this Japaneseness in the way he writes that captures me by the heart and drags me back into the smells and feelings of when I lived there all those years ago. This collection failed to do that. It lacked that special essence that, to this day, I cannot define or capture in anything but the whole of this prose. I’m sure because it dealt with people more than place.

And people are people anywhere you go.

“It wasn’t a person who first discovered what a comfortable place Kino was but a stray cat. A young gray female with a long, lovely tail. The cat favored a sunken display case in a corner of the bar and liked to curl up there to sleep. Kino didn’t pay much attention to the cat, figuring it wanted to be left alone. Once a day, he fed it and changed its water, but nothing beyond that. And he constructed a small pet door so that it could go in and out of the bar whenever it liked.” – Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

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Book Review: The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel

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The Fourth Transformation by Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal – Available Here

Words are confusing. Between pleonasms, epizeuxis, and tautology it is a marvel we accomplish as much as we do as a species. This very same confusion must be what led Robert Scoble to diagnose himself as a futurist when, I’m fairly certain, he meant enthusiast. He claims to have inside sources about upcoming tech and is incorrect to a degree he actually just be throwing darts at a board of random pieces of tech before assigning its release date using a series of arbitrarily chosen numbers. Shel Israel may suffer from this too, but my knowledge of his work hinges mostly on the future of socialization and generally not screaming about how Apple is going to rule the world with AR headsets sometime in the next few days.

The Fourth Transformation is a sort of future facing drooling simulator. Between the two of them, Scoble and Israel saw the big sign in the distance shrieking the words, “THE FUTURE IS COMING®” and bought it hook, line, and sinker. And the book turns out beautifully as long as you take it on its surface. It is uncritical, but loving. It is the dog you’ve always wanted. It praises and praises, and when it can’t praise it drops the topic and finds a new toy to chew on it. Once you take a step back and realize that the tech they are praising and predicting in five years requires battery technology that is both multiples more powerful AND smaller than anything we have now, You have officially moved me from gawking to checking to make sure my wallet is still in my back pocket.

If the acronym VR causes you to flinch or to incoherently start screaming about the Nintendo Virtual Boy, this book can help. If you want to be excited about future-tech, this book is your magic carpet. It is just important to remember that neither author possesses any technical skill in the technologies they are flaunting as our inevitable future. They are only fans, fans that have, through the power of relentless promotion, been raised to the echelons of experts.

The future is coming. It’s going to be a trip. Now, whether it is one worth taking is anyone’s guess. But if I’m being entirely honest I’d rather not have people leveraging themselves into wealth and acclaim on the heels of something that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist yet.

“History shows that where gamers take people, everything else follows.” – Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, The Fourth Transformation

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Commander Syndrome

Until they are gone, until they are dead I can no more rest my eyes and smile myself to dream than a drunk can will himself to sobriety. I am bound by their lust for a future that sees me dead, my family lost to something less than human in its empathies.

I feel that dream, crawling towards me:

You feel for the old comfort, that lie that in our stupidest moments we all fall for: on my own I would be just fine.

Through any apocalypse you would be the god walking among casuals, free from the burden of weekly serial drama. You will suffer no illness that does anything more than build your character, make the self your dream of being even more true. You can judge an enemy on sight; know their limp as a weakness, know their minds and souls strong enough to turn the mountain of conflict into a hill so paltry even a toddler could command it.

And the others will die. Directly or indirectly, they will perish like leathery, wrinkled orchids. By their own failure they will falter and weep as you muscle your way through the truth you’ve known from the day you jumped from the highest reach of the swing: you were born better.

Without them, without the week and ‘ill’ draining you of your own worth this world will end its journey at your doorstep. Everything the sun touches, everything a predator dares take from your kingdom will be done with the full knowledge that if you so desired it, it could, would be dropped to one me in honor of your benevolence.

You are the master of you and yours. Everyone else is simply…less.

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Book Review: The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth by Robin Hanson

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The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth by Robin Hanson – Available Here

You want to know how to get me to hate you? Tell me about how shitty science fiction is at predicting the future and then smugly espousing just how much more right you are than anyone else. At that point, I don’t care if you are right, you’re still an asshole who wants to burn the rest of the world to the ground so you can build a lean-to and declare that you own the tallest building in the world. To say the future is knowable and then go on to argue the stories that engage with it as a sub-par medium for exploring it is asinine.

To quote Chinese Science Fiction writer Xia Jia who in turn borrowed the words of Gilles Deleuze, Science Fiction “is a literature always in the state of becoming, a literature that is born on the frontier—the frontier between the known and unknown, magic and science, dream and reality, self and other, present and future.” These stories Hanson seems so keen on throwing under the bus are the future, they are the stories, the ideas that leverage the minds of generations to create. To dismiss that is to forget or legitimately not know what it is to be human. We are not creatures of some divine logic or coherent want, and despite the myriad of strange and questionable assumptions in this book is among the most damning.

Hanson can try and legitimize this book as better, more thought out, but his knowing is no better than yours, it is only different. His wielding of the past to inform the future (a necessity that he overtly separates from the future) is grossly limited and never gets past the western front. His passion isn’t the tech available today or in the future, it is in the incorporeal fetish of an emulated human mind. There is a decent science fiction book in here, but it is not a science future. It fiats uniformity until it doesn’t, skips some rather glaring faults in the entire notion of even getting an emulated person into existence (E.g. wouldn’t it just be easier to strip emulated minds of any emotional core and wield them as bleeding edge processing units, and if we didn’t bother to do that who would fight for them (or listen) to demands for them to be marked as human? Kinda seems like it would just allow a new kind of slavery).

At one point, after literally separating himself from all pasts (fiction and non), that he is not an iconoclast. All I can say is: I read his biography on his website and he can fuck right off with all of that. It directly states that he takes the piss out of those who hold a political ideology. His very existence seems pegged to give him the leeway to criticize while being able to say, “I’m not saying I’m right,” while secretly mumbling, “You’re just wrong”.

This is a book whose very existence seems to be an act of ego. It is there so that if, for some god forsaken reason he proves correct, he can point to his plasticy paper volume and say, “Ah-ha!”  Either that or it’s a book designed and written by a man who wanted to write a novel, realized he couldn’t and with the grace of an Adderall-soaked gibbon forged the closest thing he could come to it.

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