In spite of myself being stuck with playing Yakuza Kiwami non-stop in the first part of the month, and of the subsequent return to studying, I have managed to read a good number of things. I’m one of those who read attentively rather than quickly, and yet reading as much as I can is to me a sort of pleasant duty, not only because I’m a writer and hence reading is necessary to me, but also because today some good written word is a primary need. The world is very fast, and I by no means dislike it, but man needs to slow down.
We have some good variation, too. Old pulp, classics, and NewPub. There’s some for everyone, so let’s go. I will talk as little about plots as it seems appropriate, for my interest is not in doing homework.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pirates of Venus
GREAT NOVEL. The adventures of Carson Napier begin with his project of reaching Mars, but a mistake leaves him to drift in space until his vessel gets attracted by the gravity of Venus. After a rough landing, he finds out that certainly there is life on Venus and the planet itself has a long history: in ancient times, the (very) old Amtorian kingdom has been overthrown by an insurrection of space Communists called Thorists, and those who have escaped have built their refuge upon the gigantic trees of Venus, called Vepaja. Carson is found by the Vepajans and joins their society, but after a while some misadventures bring him away from Vepaja and on the hands of the Thorist; from here, his story and his feelings will tie with the story and people of planet Venus.
The book has some not-so-useful passage in the first chapter, especially when the narrator stops to define technical details of the space journey, but otherwise it’s a quick and entertaining read with very fluid prose. Events and adventures flow and happen one after the other with a crescendo of tension, and being it the first book in a series, it ends with a dramatic climax which makes you want to jump to the next episode. The single chapters follow a similar structure, and, of course, it works. It’s undoubtedly the best way to structure a pulp novel.
This first book is most certainly a set-up for future events, and it excels in letting you have a taste of the basic elements of this imaginary Venus: the nature of the land, its different peoples and their relationship among each other. Burroughs mixed with creativity different branches of XIXth Century adventure fiction and spiced them up with the sci-fi element, a feat which may seem expected today but I believe it to be remarkable for the ’30s. Carson, our protagonist, is an archetype of the kind of traditional manliness which old adventure fiction had plenty of and that we lack so much today. He conquers your sympathies without much hesitation, something that, other than being perfect in a pulp context, I praise loudly. He’s an awesome Gigachad and you’ll love it.
Also shout-out to Burroughs for understanding and exposing the core metaphysical and existential essence of Communism. No wonder the bugmen hate him!
Note: I have bought the whole cycle so expect to read about the other books in later posts.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights
It is incredible that this is classified as a short story in spite of being about 50-pages long. Luckily, it is good story. Here, our protagonist is a typical 19th Century romantic, a lonely dreamer, stumbling upon an equally lonely lady, Nastenka, and her sorrows: she has been waiting a year for the return of the man she loves, who has not yet returned in spite of a promise he made. The meeting between the protagonist and Nasten’ka sparks a light in their common loneliness, and in the four following nights, our dear romantic can’t stop falling in love with the girl and deluding himself of being reciprocated. His hopes are crushed as finally the man Nastenka has been waiting for shows up and reunites with her.
Few things have left me a greater impression than the quality of the dialogue, which is neatly superior to that of most authors, if not all. It shows a brilliant ability of not just mimicking the way some real people speak, but also of putting on paper the nervousness and emotional distress of our two characters, of leaving a trace of gestures and tone through dialogue alone, without making it explicit through a direct narration. This is supposed to be a short story, so the prose does not wander and is strictly focused on telling the drama and the protagonist’s emotional movements. This happens in smaller scale with Nastenka, too, as she tells the story of her enamorment herself. However, she is also supposed to be a mysterious entity to both reader and protagonist. We are not allowed a look into her true feelings until the end, when a glimpse of them is showed as she sees her true love, when the protagonist’s hopes (and the reader’s, too) crumble. I would define the ending a small tragedy, but not a disappointment in the sense the current publishing industry has forced on you for decades. I would say that, a part from being a glimpse of truth, what happens is a good thing given that our main character is a fucking Virgin.
Read it here: https://dev.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36034
David V. Stewart, Middlebury (A Gen Y Tale)
As the title suggest, this short story belongs to a cycle of tales about the common experiences and feelings of Gen Y. That doesn’t mean an older or younger reader cannot enjoy them or be touched by the their themes, although being myself a younger guy they feel distant or partly alien to me. I am confident that the Gen Y Tales are some of those things that you understand better as time passes.
In this one, the main character, Tim, is stuck in a very odd situation: he keeps feeling that something is waiting for him beyond his attachments and daily life in the town of Middlebury. The slow start describing the monotony of Tim’s days gives space to an unexpected conclusion, and to the rising of a mythical and religious element, as the nature of this internal calling becomes clearer. A strange traveler will reveal the true nature of Middlebury and push Tim to leave it behind.
As I said, it starts slowly, but it is necessary to state Tim’s initial situation. It is more or less the description of a common day in the life of Tim, altough he is already starting to feel that something is not quite right. After the encounter with the traveler, the rhythm increases and the point of the story unfolds at the right pace. The theme of leaving away our material attachments is faced with expertise, since it mitigates any eventual heaviness with pleasant fantasy-style action (given David’s public and career, it was a smart move), and the resolution is especially touching. Very cool.
You can find it here: https://dvspress.com/middlebury-a-gen-y-tale/
Alexandru Constantin, Bobby
I remember Alexandru tweeting about prefering the horror inside the human mind rather than the cosmic one, and this story is a concrete example of that taste.
Bobby is our protagonist, a man with some unpleasant trauma on his back (in particular, one regarding a dog he owned as a kid, a dog that met a sad fate) and a disturbed mind. The story begins with him driving at night through the desert. It is said to be a special night, the kind Bobby likes, when the storms always come. Stopping into an old, familiar pub, he meets Marci, the once hottest girl in class, who has come to enjoy the night with her boyfriend.
Their presence is increasingly insufferable to Bobby, but at last they leave him alone, and he can return to enjoy solitude again until the couple exits the pub. Events take a wrong turn as Bobby makes the road home and finds Marci staggering on the street after a fight with her boyfriend, and an incident with a coyote causes him to face his trauma again.
Alexandru’s prose sinks the reader into a confounded state where always looms an element of disturbance, obsessing him with hints of the world as seen by Bobby. Sometimes you can truly feel his own emotions, especially when dealing with Marci. This disturbant air weighs on the story as an ill omen, and the ending is quite sudden in spite of the reader expecting something bad happening soon. I very much appreciated this artistic style.
You can find it here: https://terrorhousemag.com/bobby/
Note: having talked many times with both David and Alexandru, it felt odd to call them by “Mr. Stewart” and “Mr. Constantin”. If you are extranous to “our circle”, know that this is the reason I just call them by name, and my intentions are not disrespectful.
That is all for May. Monthly Reads returns in July!
Until next time.