Death Wish

I’m a real sucker for vigilante stories, that’s no secret. It started with Batman and grew into The Punisher and then took a mind of its own from there. It resonates with my law-and-order perspective on the wider issues of society and it makes for damn good entertainment. That’s how I stumbled upon Death Wish by Brian Garfield.

Death Wish is the story of Paul Benjamin, a life-long liberal and successful New York accountant whose wife and daughter are brutally assaulted one tragic afternoon. The tragedy worsens when Mrs. Benjamin dies in the hospital and their daughter goes down an endless spiral of comatose shock. Paul’s faith in the system weakens as the police turn up little in the way of leads and nothing in the way of hard results. As time goes on, Paul sees the Big Apple descend only further into degenerate brutality from the apathy of good men and the social fostering of evil ones. In the end, Paul decides the only sane course left open to him is to take justice into his own hands.

Most of us haven’t suffered quite the way Paul Benjamin has, but nobody is free of some brush with the unjust nature of the world. You probably still remember that time you got cheated in grade school, the sting of an unfair judgment, the frustration of a sin gone unpunished, or the man who took your eye walking around with both of his. Whatever it is, it helps the character of Paul Benjamin seem more human and more like yourself. Paul’s emotional psyche develops over the course of the story, to positive or negative results, depending on your opinion. His sociopolitical reflections shift just as much, from his liberal starting point to something far more extreme. If you live in a big city, you’ll understand some of the sentiments he expresses; it can be terrifying to live in an urban environment, where everyone knows there are alleys and streets best not traveled after dark, where everyone around you is faceless, apathetic, and the weather is always smothering you. The spiritual degradation of being caught in the great big mouse wheel of grimy stone and stained steel is something most of us can relate to.

The book was written in the early 70s, so a lot of the vernacular and attitudes are funky, to say the least. Part of Paul’s sociopolitical shift emerges from his former attachment to justice reform and social security for the underclasses, mostly of minority demographics in the city. These attachments fade away as he struggles to cope with the failure of the system in a society that seems to foster crime and degeneracy rather than protecting good, honest people just doing their job and living their simple lives. His bigotry may be jarring to the reader in a way that violence in fiction isn’t anymore, whereas when the book was written it would likely have been the opposite.

To shift a bit from the sociopolitical and add some psychology into the mix, there’s a great part near the end where Paul (whose vigilante behaviour has made waves across the city, even inspiring copy-cats) reads a magazine interview with a famous psychiatrist about the mysterious .32 caliber avenger everyone keeps hearing about. The psychiatrist addresses some social concerns regarding the protection of criminals by the system and the abandonment of the law-abiding, as well as the isolation this set-up fosters in some people. For most, their rejection of society turns to extremes, either left or right, but what makes the .32 caliber killer so intriguing is that he operates alone and is thus far more appealing to the common man. He builds a case for understanding Paul without condoning his actions in a discussion that seems just as relevant in 2018 as it did in 1972.

Alas, Death Wish does have something of a non-ending. A great deal of the conflicts go without resolution, and while that may frustrate the reader it also sets up a sequel nicely. I ordered the sequel immediately after finishing the book, in fact. However, it seems that Brian Garfield may not have intended to write a sequel in the first place, as he said in an interview that he did so simply because he was so disappointed in the movie adaptation of Death Wish (the original one starring Charles Bronson, not the Bruce Willis remake).

Look forward to the review of the sequel, Death Sentence; I’m certainly looking forward to reading it. Hopefully, it’s much the same as its predecessor: a short, solid story of righteous anger and the quest for cosmic justice.

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Blood Meridian Or The Evening Redness In The West

My experience with Westerns is limited but positive. But Blood Meridian is an anti-Western, arguably, and if you know the cliches of the Old West, you can get into an anti-Western. In essence, an anti-Western shows the harsher side of the Wild West as opposed to the romanticized John Wayne, straight-shooting, plucky cowboy heroism that we’re used to in mainstream fiction. Cormac McCarthy likes pulling the rose-tinted glasses from the eyes of his readers, especially where violence is concerned. This is the basis of Blood Meridian Or The Redness In The West.

Meet The Kid, a Tennessee boy of 15. He’s got a taste for violence, nothing worth staying home for, and a lot of energy. He runs from his broken home and gets caught up in every dirty trick and show of machismo in the West during his travels. Eventually, he joins up with an unsavoury band of mercenaries led by John Joel Glanton the infamous scalp-hunter, and Judge Holden, his inhuman right-hand man. As part of the Mexican government’s ongoing guerilla war against the various Native tribes inhabiting the same land, they contract soldiers of fortune to kill tribals and return with their scalps for a bounty. The Kid becomes the Glanton gang’s newest and youngest scalp-hunter for want of something better to do with his time and skills. The journey that follows is one of atrocities fictional, yet based in reality, committed by real-life historical figures adapted to a fictional narrative.

The thread that runs through most of Cormac McCarthy’s work is that there is an evil to Mankind that is visceral, something we can not run from. In some respects, this bloody evil is so interwoven that it becomes banal in its purity when it emerges outside of a society or structure strong enough to control it. All of the characters in the story, great sinners each of them, present little remorse for what they’re doing, if any at all. The open road and the lack of both God and government (most of the time) to stop them spurs them on in their routine acts of barbarity to the point that the money and the thrill lose their appeal and the motivation for their brutal deeds degrades into a base revulsion of boredom, an existential time-killer to keep them from confronting their lifestyle and the sorry end that will wrap it up.

Although the themes of the book ride a lot higher than the characters do, we’d be remiss to not consider the central figures with some care. The Kid, as a protagonist, resembles Ishmael of Moby Dick; I assume this similarity was intentional, since the book does strike the critical consensus as the next great American novel in the same vein as Herman Meville’s magnum opus. If you haven’t read my review of that, scroll on down and take a look. Getting back to The Kid, his presence in the plot is heavy at the start of the book, but he fades into the group as the story goes on, both from a plot standpoint and as a symbolic fading of the individual into the sins of the group. The Kid is also distinct from most of the other mercenaries (Glanton and The Judge in particular) in that he bears a quiet but consistent unease at what he is doing. The Judge does accuse him of this toward the end of the novel, voicing it as weakness, although the narrative leaves it ambiguous as to just how guilty The Kid feels over his deeds.

The Judge is present for all but a small section of the book and at times seems to take over as the central character. He also appears super-human or Other at times, both by reader interpretation and by the opinion of his brothers-in-arms. A completely hairless giant of a man, white and pink in pigment, The Judge is a man of many talents: throughout the book he demonstrates mastery of gunplay, technical drawing, geology, theology, chemistry, history, philosophy, horse-riding, hunting, legalese, and dancing. He prefers to do that last one naked and rarely passes up the opportunity to remove as much of his clothing as possible in his off-time. He also speaks a number of languages fluently. But perhaps his true calling in life is applying any of these skills to his end-goal of further murder and mayhem inflicted upon others in a supremely Darwinist sense of a dog-eat-dog worldview. He sees evil as the mere state of affairs and a natural state, at that, choosing to use and abuse those unlucky enough to cross his path. In this, he personifies the theme of the novel, and that contributes greatly to my interpretation that he becomes the central character of the book more than The Kid.

And that’s that for characters. No, I mean it. There are plenty of other named characters, but their importance in the course of events is quite minimal. Even Glanton, the leader of the gang, is a man moving more by clear and simple instinct than anything else and The Judge does most of the thinking beyond that. The other characters are subservient to The Judge and his inhuman grasp on events, people, and all that fall between the two. Even The Kid plays more by his rules than vice versa, as if he is just a part of The Judge’s story. Of course, The Judge couldn’t be the real protagonist, because that would imply there are obstacles in his way. Nothing stands in the way of The Judge, physically or metaphysically.

As for the prose, it’s a little unusual. The sentences are structured simply and often carry on for quite awhile to cut down on punctuation. McCarthy really does not like punctuation, incidentally. There are few commas, no dialogue quotes, and as far as I recall, no exclamation marks. Even question marks are occasionally left out in favour of a simple period. Despite the sparse nature of the writing, it remains evocative; this is especially true of descriptions of scenery. Keeping a dictionary and thesaurus handy would do the reader well, however: plenty of terms are used for their archaic appeal and will go over most people’s heads. Some basic knowledge of Spanish would also help, although it isn’t entirely necessary if you’ve got a good grasp of context. If you like the wording of the Bible, you will enjoy the writing of Blood Meridian, but it does not draw directly from Scripture to such a degree that you need to have read it to pick up what McCarthy is laying down.

The ending of Blood Meridian is as ambiguous as a life in the Wild West must have been, and I have not been able to stop mulling it over since then. I would discuss the theories I have read and my own interpretation of the ending, but I think you should read the story for yourself instead of being spoiled about it. Perhaps a wider interpretation of the ending (or the story as a whole) calls for a separate post in the future. Until then, get reading, have a wonderful day, and come back soon!

Battlefield Earth

To say L. Ron Hubbard is a controversial figure would be an understatement. To say he’s misunderstood, well, that’s a whole other level of understating it. His supporters don’t realize he played every single one of them for a fat stack of cash and his detractors don’t realize he was a terrific writer, and that’s why he was able to make such an intriguing science fiction story into a religion. His reputation precedes anything he’s ever written, so I felt I ought to address this at the very beginning of this review. Battlefield Earth was released in 1982, long after he had made his fortune with Scientology, and it represents his desire to return to the craft he had been dedicated to before the pursuit of an easy living impressed itself upon him.

According to Harlan Ellison, Hubbard’s prolific career in writing reflected a particular dedication: he would use brown paper on a spool, feeding it right into his typewriter, to speed up his writing process. When a page was finished, he’d snip the paper with a t-square and toss the sheet behind him before continuing. Writers paying their dues in those days made about a penny a word, so you can understand why so many Golden Age sci fi writers were fast-talking productivity machines. It was the only way they could scrape out a living.

Hubbard’s days as a pulp writer inform the style of Battlefield Earth, as well. The plucky heroes, the “Aw, Shucks” dialogue, the protagonist’s middle name being Goodboy, overuse of exclamation points, it all smacks of a 50s-60s space adventure with the Grittiness dial tuned to 11. This addition makes it a lot more engaging as a story than if you tried to watch Flash Gordon’s hijinks without the benefit of having grown up with it. I think this is because Hubbard’s subtle updates to the old formula serve as a redefinition of pulpy sci fi instead of a continuation of it. He knew it was a new game and he was an old pro, but he found a way to reconcile the two. There’s something to be said for that. Most old dogs can not learn new tricks.

Battlefield Earth is a story of the human spirit; the courage, wit, and determination of an entire race brought to bear against an insurmountable foe. The year is 3000 AD and the human race is in tatters. A thousand years of Psychlo domination has reduced the species to small tribes hunted for sport while the mineral riches of Earth are guzzled by the Psychlo Empire and its bureaucratic machinery. Among the apathetic tribals is Johnnie Goodboy Tyler, a young man who refuses to give up hope and instead gathers the best Man has left and leads them into a suicide mission for the salvation of humanity.

A great deal of the harsh tone the novel has comes from the background of the Psychlos as a species. Their physiology is a literal accumulation of viruses and parasites that somehow manage to work in unison, creating a sort of super-organism of visceral evil. They torture, maim, and murder for information, for revenge, and just for fun, as circumstances determine. The breadth of their empire, the cruelty of even their minor functionaries, and their cunning use of creatures against their own brethren are enough to let the reader take them seriously. They glass planets they consider too impractical to conquer via conventional means, and they capture entire worlds whole by flooding them with toxic gas just to save time and effort. They’re far from cartoon villains, for a cartoon villain’s intent may be as ill as one can imagine, but their capabilities are limited and their plots are foiled. This story is a thousand years after their greatest success against the human race and shows the price of that defeat for planet Earth. On a micro level, the deaths of a number of characters throughout the story make this point equally compelling on an emotional level as it is on an intellectual level.

During the course of human activities against their Psychlo overlords, other alien races are mentioned by name and faintly alluded to. An example I found most intriguing was the Tolnep race, who a Psychlo believes to be involved in an attack on his ship. In his frantic thoughts, he lets the reader know that the Tolneps are tough as steel and bear venomous fangs, a species so armoured the only conventional means of fighting them involve “ultraviolet weaponry” due to their sensitive optics. What made the mention of other races so interesting was not so much that they were brought out, giving the book’s universe a sense of vastness, but that these creatures would later show up and play a role in the plot. The universe’s vastness then became tangible to me. And yet, the universe also reminds us of our own, especially the race that runs the Galactic Bank. Fiction mimicking reality always has that special quality to it when done right.

Overall, Battlefield Earth has plenty to offer. It has action, diplomacy, a world beyond our worst fears and characters who embody our greatest hopes. From the ruins of Denver to the jungles of South America, from the stoic monks of Tibet to Euro-Afrikaans mercantile mercenaries, this book embodies the diversity of Mankind and the power of its rich tapestry against threats foreign and domestic.

It’s a good read. Take my word for it.

The Case For Impeachment

What’s a little political discussion among readers? I’ve enjoyed a relative neutrality thus far and I intend to keep it. At the risk of exposing that I suffer from Fence-Sitter Syndrome, I will be honest in my assessment of this book: it’s not propaganda, but it’s got some problems. A lot of what I will say about it may smack of Whataboutism, that God-awful addition to our political lexicon, but allow me to explain why I think this is fine for the sake of this review. I believe Professor Lichtman has some serious problems laying his bias aside in writing this piece, and for that reason, I believe it is fair to compare the text to what it would be like if it were written about the opposing candidate.

The 2016 election was, for all but a handful of the most extreme hacks on both sides, an argument over which atrocious evil was the better. This is the lens through which I read this book.

The first genuine criticism, and perhaps the one that stood out most to me, was the Orwellian alarmism. This only bothers me so much because I have yet to see someone reference 1984 in a contemporary political context and convince me that they’ve actually grasped the story. I do give Professor Lichtman the benefit of the doubt and assume he has read it, even if it was a long time ago. His comparison of the “alternative facts” phenomenon to double-think falls flat because Lichtman seems to be insinuating that the diversification of media in the Digital Age has distanced the electorate from objective truth in a way that media has not done previously. I don’t see eye to eye with him on this; I believe that the uniform, linear, collectivized narrative that defined culture (and ultimately, politics) in traditional media was far closer to Orwellian double-think than the chaotic diversity of alternative media via the internet. In the former, thought is herded along a predetermined path by the heads of traditional media, their backers, and their political friends. In the latter, it is every man for himself and the narrative is defined and redefined by the individual. You may argue this creates a greater amount of sources producing propaganda than traditional media allowed, but it also creates more of the opposite and decentralizes the flow of information.

My second issue ties very much into the first, vis a vis alarmism, and that is the topic of birtherism. This is where Professor Lichtman’s actual bias shows. For those that have avoided politics for more than just the last few years, birtherism is the name attached to a set of conspiracy theories which postulate that former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya and thus, was not an eligible candidate for the presidency. This movement was short-lived due to its lack of reliable evidence and left to the dustbin of political history, except for its brief retrieval during the 2016 election campaign.

Donald Trump was an outspoken adherent of this theory, something he was criticized for then and criticized for once again when he ran for president, and rightfully so. However, Professor Lichtman neglects to include the fact that birtherism was not a unipartisan theory. When Hillary Clinton was running against Obama for the Democratic nomination, one of her own staffers circulated the rumour and a number of her supporters were keen to increase that circulation. A former member of the Democratic State Committee of Pennsylvania even tried to sue Obama over this in 2008, something a lot more direct than the GOP ever did. This is in no way a means of absolving Trump of vocally supporting this fabrication; I am merely pointing out that Professor Lichtman’s research must have informed him that Clinton was, at least, culpable in the popularity of this conspiracy theory. To leave that out diminishes his claims of impartiality. Does this contribute to my earlier assertion of alarmism? Well, yes. Professor Lichtman says that birtherism “may be” the biggest lie in US electoral history, a completely ludicrous statement for a professor of history, of all things, to make.

The third issue to come up deals with emails, and God knows we heard enough about those in 2016. Nonetheless, Professor Lichtman is guilty of Whataboutism in this attack, so I feel no guilt at turning that around. He criticizes Trump’s attacks on Hillary about her email server scandal by referring to a commercial lawsuit years prior in which Trump appears to have tampered with email servers of his own to destroy evidence of his culpability in the suit. This changes nothing about what Hillary did with her own email server and, furthermore, is not a one-to-one comparison. A private businessman who destroys evidence to win a commercial lawsuit is guilty of that destruction and ought to be held legally accountable for it, without a doubt. But it’s a disgrace to the institutions of the republic to pretend that’s on par with destruction of evidence the FBI has requested to determine if the Secretary of State willfully or negligently exposed government secrets to foreign and hostile entities. Both of these individuals ought to be kept miles away from the White House, but it doesn’t seem like Professor Lichtman is willing to admit that both of these people are guilty of their respective crimes or that these crimes are unequal in their severity.

Professor Lichtman endeavoured to lay the philosophical groundwork for Trump’s impeachment as best he could and, if he had done only that, this book would have been far better for it. There is a skeleton within this text of that case and it is a strong one. He pulls from historical precedent and the intentional open-endedness of impeachment qualification, Trump’s proven and admitted lapses in character, and the ethical tangles his business and political lives will and have caused. This book could have been a fraction of the length, and he could have cut nothing but his biases, without any true loss of quality.

I can see why Professor Lichtman might have thought it was a good idea to write the book: he correctly predicted Trump’s victory (and humbly states that it was not difficult, nor were any of his previously successful predictions), it was lucrative to write on the election at the time, and perhaps most evidently, this is a time in history when civic duty desperately needs a resurgence in American society.

To conclude, I applaud Professor Lichtman’s work. I just wished he had stopped at the goal line and left the “fake news,” so to speak, at the door. His case is strong, but could have been stronger for it.

8MM

I know what you’re thinking. You saw Nicholas Cage and you intellectually checked out. The man is a meme given life at this point, and not without good reason. But I’m going to pull you out of the laughs for a moment or two, if you’ll let me, and tell you why 8MM is a good movie.

The premise is pretty simple: a private detective named Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage) is hired by a recently widowed woman of wealth, who has found what she believes to be a snuff film in her husband’s personal effects. She tasks Welles with finding out whether the film is real or not by locating the girl portrayed in it. The investigation is not as clean and straightforward as Welles is used to.

I’ll come right out and say it: the talent on screen is great. I sincerely mean that. While Cage and Stormare are mocked for their acting styles, both of them play characters whose role in the plot serves that style in one way or another. Stormare gets the chance to play a sleazy pornographer with a flair for low-brow theatrics and delusions of artistry. He knows how to lay it on thick enough to give this character life. Cage plays a character whose otherwise routine and banal life takes a dark turn and his humanity is diminished by his brushes with the savage. The out-of-place awkwardness of Cage playing it calm fits the protagonist’s journey and his moments of outburst are jarring not because of who plays the character but because the character is genuinely pushed to the edge and beyond it throughout the film. When the time comes for Cage to make a particular phone call where he seeks a moral nudge to take action against evil, it can actually be taken seriously. It’s quite moving, in fact. Joaquin Phoenix does his cool guy thing as a deceptively intelligent punk rocker who works in an adult bookstore out of desperation, and James Gandolfini plays a rather funny kind of scumbag by comparison to his much more popular role as Tony Soprano.

I’m a sucker for mysteries and 8MM does a good job keeping the stakes high. Welles’ investigation takes him through the darkest recesses of modern society, starting in a seedy adult bookshop and travelling through BDSM clubs, black market sex shops, and the sickening world of murder-porn while he searches for a poor young girl who was never shown how loved she was until it was far too late. But Welles’ dedication to his job also brings his friends and loved ones into the firing line, especially his wife and baby daughter, which keeps the tension going for most of the third act. Tom Welles, for all his flaws, is a man who hunts truths he is not emotionally prepared to handle, at great risk to himself and others.

8MM does seem a little outdated when you watch it in 2018, but that’s only until you dig a bit deeper. It seems quaint to imagine a basement where vendors peddle all manner of illegal and indecent Polaroids and tapes, everyone in shades or hoods or otherwise obscuring their identity. However, it soon becomes evident that this movie is not only quaint by the standards of today, but tame. The internet gives every named and nameless monster in the film the power to greatly expand their business and interests with a fraction of the risk to their freedom. The film becomes almost a warning about what people are capable of and what they would eventually use the internet for. In 1998, the limits of that warning probably seemed a lot narrower than they would turn out to be. Today, the filth can only perpetuate further each day, and with little the better-minded members of society can do to stop it.

As any good neo-noir thriller or detective slasher ought to end, 8MM closes with a bittersweet state of affairs. The mystery itself has been solved, the appropriate debts have been paid, but the emptiness evident at the start of the plot remains in the hearts of each character lucky enough to survive it. It does not bury you with cliches, it does not lie for the sake of your peace of mind, and it does not spare you the facts.

That is how a story ought to end.

Updates (03/07/2018)

Your Uncle Blue is back, boys and girls. Back with not much of a vengeance, if I’m honest. I’m a little pooped and that is pretty much the only reason I haven’t been more active. The cause of that exhaustion, however, is that I’ve been working a full time job in data entry for the past month. Not sure if I mentioned that before my disappearing act. If I were a gambling man, I’d put a lot on a strong maybe.

But as for the near future, I promise the reviews are on their way. I’ve got a handful of books, a movie, and a game to write up, as I recall. I don’t get a lot of productivity by the time I get home from work, but I try to spread it around as best I can.

Having began the year with a resolution to have a certain amount of money in my savings account, I’m almost there within a month, and I didn’t even have a bank account when this year started. It feels good to kick money aside and still have enough to treat oneself as circumstances permit. I’ll even be able to start building a custom PC soon with the gracious help of a good friend. One of my other resolutions, publishing The Tune That Never Was, is also nearing completion. The book itself is done as far as the writing and editing is concerned. I only need to finish the design of the book itself and get Amazon’s self-publishing service hooked up with my bank account and I can get started with their system. God knows how easy or annoying that might be.

Life is good when you act it out and respect the duties you have taken on.

Grand Theft Auto III

Grand Theft Auto III was one of the first games I played obsessively when I was younger. Just driving down the same streets and seeing the three islands of Liberty City reminds me of a time long since gone; the familiarity of it is something that can only be shared, not explained.

When it came out in 2001, GTA III was groundbreaking and a genuine trendsetter; it redefined the sandbox game for years to come. Not only was the map impressively large, but most of it was interesting to look at. Too many sandbox games since (including future GTA installments) have created maps beyond the imagination, only to fill it with large swathes of empty territory and unimpressive terrain. GTA III was quite a different story. From the industrial low-tech low-life dinge of Portland to the commercial opulence of Staunton Island to the snide suburbia of Shoreside Vale, the game’s world is intuitively designed and tastefully polished.

But graphics and setting are one thing. The ability to screw around is a GTA staple and, in fact, is more the real mission than the story missions that populate each game. Later games would drift toward more story-oriented narratives, but GTA III was still in the era of the zany sandbox. Which is not to say that the story isn’t entertaining for what it is, but in between those missions you can enter races, moonlight as a taxi driver, steal a police car and gun down criminals as a vigilante, take control of a firetruck’s water-cannon and give those pesky arsonists what for, or even speed around town in an ambulance, picking up injured citizens and loudly proclaiming that it isn’t lupus. All of these missions provide bonuses for regular play, which can vastly improve your chances of success in the story missions. There are payphone missions for lesser gangs, Hidden Packages to find (which also have bonuses), or just flat out search for easter eggs. There are plenty!

The voice acting talent is on display here, with big names such as Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, and Kyle MacLachlan providing dialogue for characters. Appropriately enough, Frank Vincent and Robert Loggia also found their way into this game, as befitting the location and relation of the mafia to the plot. If those names are foreign to you, Frank Vincent was the ill-fated Billy Batts in Goodfellas, Mr. Shinebox himself, and Robert Loggia was the similarly ill-fated Frank in Scarface.

In keeping with the ears, the music in the game is alright for what it is. I have a sneaking suspicion that DMA Design (Rockstar) did not have the recognition or resources to pack this game full of hits the way they did with its successors. Nonetheless, Lips is a fine radio station, Flashback is great if you love the Scarface soundtrack, and Chatterbox has some interesting dialogue. When the game was made, the developers purposely brought real radio hosts in to script and perform the content for the talk radio snippets, and it sure shows. One of them, Lazlo, actually became a series staple, albeit in the background. He even emerges in person in GTA V, playing an actual role in the plot.

GTA III is not without its issues, of course, and if you didn’t play it when you were younger, some of them may be insurmountable. I have that discussion fairly frequently with a friend of mine, and it pains me that there are a number of game experiences he is locked out of because he can’t enjoy them out of their place in time. The mechanics are pretty clunky, and if you’re not playing on the PC, the shooting mechanics are definitely crammed with wonk and nuisance. It gives the game a somewhat added layer of difficulty, albeit an artificial one. The PC port alleviates this greatly, and if you can’t beat the game on PC, you may want to put your bib back on. The driving takes some getting used to, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it looks when you first give it a shot. It becomes second nature after some practice both in and out of missions.

GTA III was a landmark in videogame history, especially for crime-based sandbox games. If you haven’t played it yet, give it a try, and give it a few chances. When it sticks, you’ll find yourself singing She’s On Fire or Feels Like I Just Can’t Take No More while you roll your sports car over a cliff for the millionth time.

Updates (24/05/2018)

Has been awhile, hasn’t it? Probably not too long since the last update, but ah, well. I’ll update as I see fit, damn it. It helps keep things in perspective not only for the dear reader of this blog, but for my own scattered schedule, as well.

I’ve been on the job hunt with fresh vigour lately, beginning with a cold calling position that did not go so well. I realized quite fast that I did not have the mindset for it, and I broke clean of it. But I didn’t drop the confidence I walked into the job with, and I didn’t let it affect my professionalism going forward. That’s turned out in my benefit, without a doubt, as I now find myself employed in a data entry position. I’ll leave the name and most of the details out of my post, of course. Better to be safe than sorry with matters of that kind. But I can say that I am thrilled to be starting a job at above minimum wage, with insurance benefits down the line!

I’m just about done with season three of Twin Peaks, so I might find the place for a long review of that series in the near future.

As you’ve no doubt seen by now, I went through Wiseguy once again and felt it fit for a review. But in terms of writing, I’ve been working hard on Punctuated Equilibria II. Some time ago, I received a mechanical keyboard from a dear friend of mine, someone I’ve been close to farther back than either of us can remember. If you’ll forgive the guerrilla video quality, here is the beauty in (some) of her glory:

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It’s a red aluminium plate with the raised keys, obviously. So smooth, so accurate, such bravado. But it truly takes shape in the dark, when plugged in and active.

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Nothing like white backlighting in the darkest hours of the night.

The first day I used it, I racked up 9000 words in the first draft of PEII over the course of the day. I wrote on and off.

In other writing news, I’ve become sensitized to the plight of anti-poachers in South Africa, and the creatures that poachers (both local and foreign) hunt for luxury. Out of that topic, as was the case with my study of Stasi, has come a story concept I’ve been carefully tending. More details on that will follow as it further takes shape. Speaking of that Stasi research and the book that came of it, the decisive time has come for The Tune That Never Was. I planned to self-publish it this month, and there is still some work left to do toward that goal. For one, actually picking apart the Amazon terms of agreement and whatnot, just to be sure I’m making the right move for myself and my work. I’m only semi-literate in Legalese, after all.

I’ve been giving National Novel Writing Month some thought lately, not for the poaching story necessarily, but perhaps for another concept which has been emerging in bits and pieces. I can only tell you as much as I know, which is that I’m getting the fragments of a mystery or thriller that follows an investigator in the 1980s, wrapped up in vice and virtue as only a confused detective can manage. As with so many of my stories, it seems to be emerging in disjointed scenes which will later make up the narrative, and those are far too sketchy thus far to bother explaining here. But I think my taste for mystery has been rekindled (including renewed interest in a story I started long ago called Lawman) by my recent purchasing of the PS4 remaster of LA Noire. I’m sure that will come up sooner or later on here in the form of a review.

On that note, I’ve been replaying the old Grand Theft Auto games since I’ve set up the ol’ PS2. I finished GTA III lately, so I’ll get to reviewing that for retro purposes (boy, does that make me feel old). I also got around to trying out Fortnite, under peer pressure, I will add. But my experience with it turned out to be better than I had expected, and that merits at least a short post at a later date.

At any rate, stay tuned. The ride continues.

Wiseguy

I first read Wiseguy years ago, not too long after becoming quite engrossed with its film adaptation, Goodfellas. If you know about this Nicholas Pileggi wopper, chances are you learned about it through the movie, owing to its well-deserved reputation as a classic in gangster cinema. Recently, I found myself re-reading the book in between slogging through my other current reads, Moby Dick (also a re-read) and Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich. Perhaps, I thought, it was time for a proper review.

The book begins with a bit of exposition, but it doesn’t take too long, and then the story is off. The writing, be it in snippets or narration, is punchy and without detours so dense as to bore. This is partially what allowed me to slip in a re-read of it; the pace and quality of the writing allowed me to dip into the story and blow through it in a couple days. The premise is simple: Henry Hill, lifetime mobster, has finally hit rock bottom and has decided to turn rat against his friends and the lifestyle that defined a genre of film and literature. How did he get to that point? Well, dig in and leave your squeamish morals at the door.

One thing that becomes abundantly clear is that Nicholas Pileggi does not allow Henry or his wife Karen authority over the narrative. Their attempts to frame it one way or the other are subtle, but easily dismissed. Pileggi includes a number of narrative passages to ensure that Hill’s tale both reflects and is enhanced by historical truth. Part of this truth comes from Pileggi’s numerous sources, who include members of law enforcement that participated in catching and flipping Henry. All of this comes together to ensure that one doesn’t forget the horrible things the main character has done and approved of in the past. Pileggi makes no bones about it, without letting the book come across as moralistic.

Henry Hill, having grown up in the mob, gives us a keen insider look at its mechanisms over the years. He explains how the gears are greased, the things that have changed, and the things that never do. But beyond that, he characterizes a number of his unsavoury associates (individuals who otherwise remain in the margins of mob history, for the most part) in remarkable clarity. You get a sense of the people behind the jewelry and the long coats, the faces under the wide-brimmed hats.

The book is a pretty comprehensive account of Henry Hill’s checkered life, punctuated by the larger events that defined it to some extent; this includes his involvement in the Lufthansa Heist (the biggest robbery in American history at the time, perhaps even to this day) as well as some narration on the investigation of it that helped to implicate Hill with his dastardly pals. The book is impressively brief for how much history and cultural shift is packed into it.

Now, of course, as I mentioned Goodfellas, it would be a sin not to compare the two. Martin Scorsese is a man whose work deserves the praise it gets, and he ought to be mentioned here, if for no other reason than because he brought this book onto the screen and into the minds of a generation of North Americans who may have missed the real events it was adapted from. The movie does do a lot of Hollywood polishing and some would say glorification of the real life figures, which the book sheds for a more frank expression of their truly vile nature. However, the details the movie does provide tend to be right, except where names have changed or the characters have taken on the fate or traits of another. The events, so to speak, are solid. The book is just as entertaining as the movie, albeit in a different way.

If you’ve never seen Goodfellas, I don’t know where you’ve been living and what you’ve been doing. Get on that. But either before or after that, give Wiseguy a read.

Musings

Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha

In the parlance of warfare, procrastination is sitting back and letting the entropic forces of life maneuver on your position.  They seek to take your high ground—the time you have left, your creative potential—a second at a time, making it less and less likely you’ll hit your objective.  But even if you’re doomed to failure, you can put up a fight; you can be honest about assessing yourself and your situation, and be strategically aggressive.  

That’ll gain you territory; you will no longer be waiting for life to maneuver on you—you’ll be maneuvering on LIFE.

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