POEM: Desert Story



Play it out, like a six-gun Western.
Let the sun hang in the mid-day sky.
Have him search for a cool-water cistern.
Croaking and choking that “the end is nigh.”

Hand him a glimpse of clear, clean water,
but let the mirage vanish into sand.
Trotting up to it as lamb to slaughter,
let him know he’s surely been damned.

Then he’ll succumb to a parched stupor.
The light fades from that cowboy’s eyes.
No spur-jangle of a nearing trooper,
but dark clouds off in the western skies.

A good story would see him wake with droplets on his cheeks.
But this ain’t that kind of story, the desert plays for keeps.

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There are no likable characters in this book, at least not ones that survive to a chapter’s end. There are, however, many enthralling characters. The book is set in the borderlands in the mid-19th century and it follows the exploits of a violence-prone teenage kid, called “the kid,” who ends up among his ilk in a band of men who are nominally hunting down violent Indian tribes for bounty, but which soon devolves into what it really is–a gang of outlaws.

 

While the kid is considered the lead because the story follows him from its beginning to its end, the most intriguing character is arguably the judge (Judge Holden.) He’s not the gang’s leader, but neither is he led. He comes across as a co-leader to Glanton, and is so much the ultimate villain that he’d be cliché in the hands of a writer less masterful than McCarthy. What makes him such an ultimate villain? For starters, he’s physically imposing, but he’s also physically abnormal in a way that sits counter to that might—specifically, he has something like alopecia that makes him pink and hairless over his entire body. (He’s described as looking like a gigantic baby when nude.) He’s also an incredibly smart man over multiple dimensions of intelligence. He speaks so eloquently that one can almost become convinced that he’s noble, despite his vile and ruthless behavior. [His soliloquies remind me of those in the books of the Marquis de Sade, except much more compelling and focused on war as opposed to domination. But he puts non-virtuous behavior on a footing of being inevitable in the state of nature.] Still, he’s as rational as he is ruthless. When he’s acting on his best behavior you’d think him the stalwart professional that his nickname implies, but when he’s vicious he’s vicious without shame or guilt.

 

Having discussed only characters, and knowing that this is literary fiction, one might wonder if there’s a story. In fact, there is a story—sort of an anti-hero’s anti-journey, if you will. The Glanton gang starts out with victory and accolades and while they face challenges (e.g. running out of gunpowder) they are a strong force through most of the story. However, they aren’t always the hunters, but sometimes become the hunted. As the story reaches toward its climax, the tables begin to turn and one begins to wonder whether there can be a peaceful end for men of violence.

 

The prose is beautiful and evocative, and at the same the writing style is sparse. The descriptions paint the scenes for one in vivid detail. You’ll likely learn some new words, but it’s not so much that there’s a choice to be pretentious with vocabulary, but rather the fact that it’s historical fiction necessitates a specialty vocabulary.

 

I’d recommend this for readers of fiction, but keep in mind that it is brutally violent and offers a depressing commentary on man’s inhumanity to man.

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BOOK REVIEW: Steel and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

Steel: And Other StoriesSteel: And Other Stories by Richard Matheson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Steel and Other Stories is a collection of 15 short stories from the author of I am Legend. Thirteen of the fifteen stories are from the 50’s, and motifs of that time are common (e.g. Cold War phobia, the Western, etc.)

1.)The title story, Steel, is about android boxers. Viewers of the movie Real Steel, which was loosely based on this story, will find the story not much like the film. In the film the boxers are robots, but in the story they are androids. For those readers who aren’t sci-fi geeks, the difference is that androids look and move like humans. There is more on the line in the final fight in the story than in the film.

2.) Fit the Crime is about a cantankerous old poet on his deathbed. It’s a humorous story and will be enjoyed by those who love language play.

3.) The Wedding is about a superstitious groom who gets on his bride’s last nerve.

4.) The Conqueror is the sole Western in the collection. It features gunfights and a final line revelation.

5.) Dear Diary is a very short sci-fi piece that is written in the form of three diary entries: one in 1954, one in 3954, and one at an undesignated date presumed to be later than the second entry. In typical Mathesonian style, the third entry, only a partial sentence, turns expectations on end.

6.) In Descent two couples are preparing to move underground to survive nuclear holocaust. Confronted with the decision of dying above ground or living a subterranean life, one of the men opts for the former. This creates a dilemma for the man’s wife.

7.) In The Doll That Does Everything two parents of a horrid child contemplate whether the lifelike doll they buy their child really can do everything.

8.) The Traveler is about scholars who go back in time, cloaked, to observe biblical history first hand.

9.) When Day is Dun is about the last man alive, but, unlike I am Legend, the apocalypse is of nuclear annihilation.

10.) Splendid Source is one of the most famous stories in the collection. It’s about a search for the point of origin of ribald jokes. Viewers of Family Guy will recognize its depiction in an episode of that series.

11.) Lemmings is one of the shortest pieces in the collection. It imagines humanity walking one after another into the sea.

12.) In The Edge a man finds that people he doesn’t know know him. This begs the question of whether he has a doppelgänger or he’s lost his mind.

13.) In A Visit to Santa Claus a man reconsiders a contract on his wife’s life that is to be executed on a visit to the mall to see Santa.

14.) In Dr. Morton’s Folly a dentist gets an after-hours emergency case.

15.) In The Window of Time A man travels back in time 68 years by mysterious circumstance, walking familiar territory in transformed in time.

Matheson is a master story craftsman, and this collection is an interesting mix of stories from various genres–some humorous and some dark.

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