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Conan the Free Lance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Free Lance by Steve Perry.

Perry Conan the Free Lance

I had honestly hoped–and with good reason, I think–that Conan the Free Lance would be the worst Conan novel I had ever read. But I’m afraid that distinction still belongs to the same author’s Conan the Indomitable. The two do have formal similarities that are worth remark in the larger world of Conan pastiche novels.

Despite frequent invocations of the geography invented by Robert E. Howard, Steve Perry’s setting for Conan tales seems more like the planet Mongo than it does the Hyborian Age. It teems with intelligent species of widely divergent origins, and he seems happy to introduce two or more exotic races per book. In this one, we have Pili (naturally-evolved lizard-men), Selkies (thaumaturgically-created fish-men), and other creatures formed by sorcery: skreeches, eels of power, and the Kralix.

There is more use of a comic narrative tone than is customary in Conan pastiche, and not with Howard’s original sense of black humor. The various sexual incidents, although not presented graphically, have a sort of juvenile camp atmosphere. And the climactic battle in this book has more than a whiff of farce about it. The chief villain, despite his vast sorcerous power, is injudicious to the point of witlessness. Also, feigned archaic diction is thrown in with some unwelcome regularity, and it manages to sound “wrong” even when it’s grammatically correct.

The characters are flat, and the plot is unremarkable. All I got from this book was the satisfaction that it was almost as bad as I thought it would be.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Unflattening by Nick Sousanis.

Sousanis Unflattening

Unflattening is a book-length comics composition–hardly a “graphic novel,” since it is a work of non-fiction. Author/artist Nick Sousanis adapted it from his own academic dissertation. The contents are highly reflexive, and consist for the most part of a discussion of parallax and its value in perception, epistemology, social change, and even biology. It is an inspirational book that is entirely free of supernaturalism or speculative “woo.” Although its first and primary explanatory paradigm is the hypergeometry intimated by Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Sousanis does not insist on a fourth spatial dimension, only further conceptual dimensions beyond those of the reader’s conscious orientation.

Although the book has only eight short chapters, the individual pages are “long.” There is an exhibition of parallax in the complementary but non-identical content of the the words and images, a phenomenon explicitly discussed in the course of the book. Part of the “distance” between the verbal and visual contents is the difference in the form of citation. When the text cites a writer (e.g. Buckminster Fuller or George Lakoff), Sousanis mentions the source at the site of the reference. But when the images cite precedent visual sources (e.g. the Mona Lisa or Doctor Who‘s TARDIS) these are usually just verbally identified in the endnotes, if at all. (There are some exceptions: “after Boticelli,” “after Watterson.”) One or two pages might be enough for a single sitting, if one “reads” them carefully–attending to the images, reading the words, and reviewing both to see the ways in which they inform one another. The reader should be attentive to the full page as the unit of composition, rather than allowing the gutters between panels to restrict attention. Sousanis emphasizes the value of simultaneity in visual presentation, as opposed to the linear seriality of text.

This volume encodes a lot of valuable concepts, but none of them were really new to me. It expresses an outlook with which I am in sympathy, and it does so in a manner that I think is really admirable.

They bore witness, in a serious and ceremonious manner, to the unravelling of this union.

Uvi Poznansky and Zeev Kachel, Home

Hermetic quote Poznansky Kachel Home unravelling

There are elements of good and elements of evil in every man, and it depends on ourselves which class we desire to develop. From a cherry stone nothing can grow but a cherry tree, from a thistle seed nothing else than a thistle; but man is a constellation of powers in which all kinds of seeds are contained

Franz Hartmann, With the Adepts

Hermetic quote Hartmann Adepts seeds

In time, each of the criminals wrote a book or did a television program describing his part in the rape of American civil rights, and each was paid lavishly by the stupid American public, which seems to have a peculiar impulse toward having their noses rubbed in their own shit.

Trevanian, Shibumi: A Novel

Hermetic quote Trevanian Shibumi shit

Don’t Hide the Madness

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg by William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, edited by Steven Taylor; due October 16th from Three Rooms Press.

I like the title of this book, but it’s not really transparent to the volume’s content. More lucid choices might have been The Exorcism of William S. Burroughs, or Old Beatniks with Guns, or most accurately Reminiscing and Cat Fancying with Bill and Al. It’s a carefully edited full transcript of about sixteenBurroughs Ginsberg Taylor Don't Hide the Madness hours of conversation between William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, at Burroughs’ place in Kansas over the course of four days in March 1992. The Naked Lunch movie release in England and Japan was the impetus for an “interview” that grew into the more relaxed-yet-ambitious project of capturing the conversations in this book, as sponsored by the London Observer magazine. Within the text, this circumstance isn’t mentioned until two days and over one hundred transcript pages into the visit, and it only occupies the foreground of a single conversational session. The transcripts were prepared from the tapes and edited by musician Steven Taylor, who had been working as Ginsberg’s assistant and a contributor to his performances.

Burroughs was pleased by Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, so that forms a focus for some of the discussion. During the course of Ginsberg’s visit, the two of them and some friends go to a local screening of the movie. Another principal activity is a brief trip to fire a few of Burroughs’ guns. But probably the most significant event during the visit was Burroughs undergoing an exorcism of the “Ugly Spirit” (so identified by Brion Gysin) that Burroughs believed had been responsible for making him shoot his wife to death in Mexico in 1951. The exorcism was performed by a Native American shaman named Melvin Betsellie. Discussion often returns to the health concerns of the two men. They review various mutual acquaintances and old experiences, and discuss a number of literary figures and social scenes. Occasionally one will read out loud from a book or an article, and Ginsberg and Burroughs both recite poems from memory. Burroughs very frequently breaks off to address himself affectionately to one of his six cats.

The lack of an index is disappointing in a book that is practically an orgy of name-dropping, and includes a fair amount of trivial conversational context. Some topical metadata to reference persons discussed are in Ginsberg’s synopses of the tapes, used as chapter headers and reproduced in the table of contents. But if you want to find the four mentions of Harry Smith for instance, you’ll just have to read right through. Likewise, a key to the abbreviations used for attributing speech would be very helpful. WSB and AG are obvious enough, but identifying the other speakers from their abbreviations may require careful reading of the editor’s introduction and the synopses. I was reading an advance review copy (via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program), so either or both of these failings of the editorial apparatus might be addressed in the actual first edition.

The cover art by R. Crumb is a lovely portrait of the two men, and there are some black-and-white photos of Burroughs taken by Ginsberg on the weekend of the conversation, along with some other photos of the men that are not credited.

I enjoyed this read, and it renewed my interest in reading some of Burroughs’ later novels. It’s definitely a book for someone who can bring to it an existing appreciation for Burroughs, at least. The reader also needs an ability to savor the conversational minutiae of old men, or failing that, some talent for skimming.

“No, Billy, Lucifer Morningstar is my true and given name.”

“That’s rough,” Billy says. “Hippie parents?”

“Not exactly.”

Jeremy P Bushnell, The Weirdness: A Novel

Hermetic quote Bushnell Weirdness hippie