The End is Always Near; L’appel du Vide (Call of the Void)

(Trigger warning for those with suicidal ideations or fears about death/the apocalypse. No judgment, I’m right there with you. This is just my version of therapy).

Sunday night I finished reading The End is Always Near by Hardcore History podcaster, and radio personality, Dan Carlin. I devoured it in about 4 days, which is monumental for me since I have ADHD. It was one of those books I’d always intended to read, but just never got around to it. The past month, however, it kept showing up on my Twitter feed. Naturally, I had to read it.

My thoughts on the book overall? If you don’t like random thought experiments, political and psychological theory that seem to go nowhere, and unconnected ideas, then this is not the book for you. If, however, you love history, you love thinking and new ideas, and you listen to Hardcore History (if you don’t but do meet the criteria above, then what are you even doing? start listening, like yesterday), this is the book for you.

Carlin begins by posing some very existential and societal questions about the way we’re raised, the way our grandparents were raised, and how past generations may or may not have traumatized every child until the 1960’s. Next, we foray into the ancient Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires; the Greeks, Romans… and then the plagues. Black Death and Spanish flu, finishing off finally with nuclear war and “Fancy Boy” President John F. Kennedy.

For my own personal tastes, this book kept me entertained for the most part (not Carlin’s fault, I just don’t particularly care for 9th century France), leaving me wanting more. Don’t worry, if you want to read more, there is a “Further Reading” section I know I will be taking advantage of. But this book took me back to my favorite episodes of the show, and introduced me to some new ideas and events I want to explore next. So I give this fast-moving, philosophical, historical leap frogging book, a 4.8/5. Probably the highest score yet.

That leads me to wonder, why do I like this book so much? Not just for the time periods, or the dizzying array of intellectual rabbit holes… but because the subject matter is just so relevant, I just can’t help putting myself in these situations. Why was I drawn to read this book for the past year? Why was it all over my Twitter feed (probably because I follow a lot of nerds).

Why are people so instinctually drawn to movies, books, and music about the end of the world (or at least, the end of humanity)? It doesn’t seem to matter if the material is using humor to confront this terrifying idea like Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, and James Franco’s This is the End, or maybe a more satirical turn like Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It also doesn’t matter if it’s serious, gritty, and so in your face you can’t ignore the fear of death and destruction… like The Terminator series, Night of the Living Dead, or Soylent Green.

Humanity likes watching the end of humanity. Weird. Not only that, but there’s been an uptick of films, books, and TV shows featuring these themes; The Walking Dead, The Maze Runner, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Resident Evil, Donnie Darko, World War Z, Good Omens, Station Eleven… the list goes on. Some people seem to think the reason for this is due to our own anxieties about the increasingly unstable world we live in (global warming, threat of nuclear war, political upheaval, pandemics, Mark Zuckerberg creeping in on your weird sexting kinks involving a broom, lube, and diapers on Facebook Messenger).

But it might also be that our brains are just weird. Of course, our brains aren’t even supposed to be aware of themselves, but here we are some 10,000 years of ‘progress’ later. And for some reason, the urge to self-sabotage is a problem many of us deal with. There’s the sabotage we’re aware of… say for instance, breaking up with someone because you’re afraid of commitment, or not wanting to have to deal with seeing the same dick everyday (literally). And then there’s the kind we’re unaware of. Those instances where you’re standing on the edge of a building and wondering, ‘Huh, what if I just jumped?’

Quite often, many of us who have had this experience have never once had depression or suicidal tendencies (I have, but I’ve heard of others who don’t). It’s not related to wanting to kill yourself, it’s just… because. Perhaps it is akin to being a kid and wondering, ‘What would happen if I touched this hot stove?’ even though you’ve just seen your older sister burn her fingerprints off (a good opportunity to start a career in crime). You know what will happen. You burn. You fall. You die.

Still, for a split second, that thought makes all the sense in the world. I’m sure a good amount of you have heard of “l’appel du vide” or, “Call of the Void.” The first time I remember hearing of it (I’m sure my brain heard it before last year, but was paying attention to a corgi in a sailor suit instead), was listening to Stuff to Blow Your Mind episode, Jump Into the Void.

I know I’ve suggested this show before, but I’m going to recommend it again. The episode kind of plays around with the idea of our own self-sabotaging nature.  One theory they mention being floated around is that our brains are trying to short circuit a problem. For instance, you are afraid of heights (I am not, I am more afraid of dying from the fall… because I am way more logical about that than I am about being buried alive. Apparently my mind thinks that’s what it needs to worry about). Your brain wants to solve this problem, and overcome said fear. The only way to overcome fear, is to face it. Just fall, and you’ve solved the problem because you just did it. Only now you have a bigger problem; you’re dead.

So perhaps the only way we can face the fear of dying or losing everything and everyone we hold dear, without actually having to face it, is to simulate this experience through various forms of media. Or maybe this kind of simulation is a warning of how bad things could be, and it can help us mentally plan and prepare. As an INTP, I thrive off of the pre-planning process, the execution… not so much. But in the end (pun not intended) most of us don’t actually want any of this to happen. If you do, maybe it’s time to seek help.

On that note, read the book (or maybe something else), watch the new season of Altered Carbon (future review…?), and bake a cake because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing.

Ever Stood On A Ledge And Thought, ‘I Could Jump’? There’s A Phrase For That

Reading From the Middle

(SPOILER ALERT FOR BOOKS) So I have a bad habit. I find a book, or perhaps a movie. I read the synopsis and happen to like it – something that is far from easy since I am rather particular with the books I read and the movies I watch… Only to find out, when I finish the book (or movie) that there is another that follows the story. Great! But only – wait, its a trilogy, and I’ve just read the second book. Well, slam me sideways on Sunday!

This is a common pattern that I have repeated time and again. Shouldn’t authors be forced to put warnings on their books like McDonald’s does on their apple pies? Because, unlike Marvel movies (Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man all had weak 2nd entries, okay, I will fight you in the dark on that one… unless you compare Iron Man 2 to Iron Man 3, and then that’s a different story of slowly deteriorating quality), sequel books are actually really damn good.

Everville by Clive Barker, The Devil Rejects, directed by Rob Zombie (starring Sid Haig, Sherri Moon Zombie, and Bill Moseley). And The Devil’s Bible (written by Dana Chamblee Carpenter). Notice how all three of these things are hell-adjacent (even Everville, if you know your Clive Barker is), this is probably a pattern…?

But anyhow, all three of these have one thing in common, they are sequels in a trilogy. The Devil’s Rejects, arguably, perhaps is maybe not. Now, I know many people have strong opinions on Mr. Zombie and his films. Some people think they’re absolute trash, some think they’re perfect homages to horror movies of the past, and a lot of other people don’t give a dead COVID-19 bat about them. Having seen at least 5 Zombie films, I can say truthfully that there is valid points in most anyone’s opinion. But The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, and (don’t film-shame me on this one) Halloween, aren’t bad. Let me rephrase that. Halloween is not TERRIBLE. Halloween 2 should’ve never happened. House of 1000 Corpses is good fun, and The Devil’s Rejects is even better. It’s arguably a film that can stand on its own, which is why when fishing around for “Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made,” this often shows up on the top cult films list. It’s completely different from Corpses from the attitude, the styling, and who the plot centers around. So I ended up watching it before ‘1000 Corpses’. And maybe you should too.

Second, Everville, the sequel to The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. Barker, I believe has many similarities to Rob Zombie in the way that most of his career focuses on  making art about an enigmatic group of people you want to know more about but don’t exactly want to meet. The difference of course is that at the end of the day, you still hate the Cenobites and Pinhead. The Devil’s Rejects almost makes you root for the protagonists (Tutti f’in fruity anyone?). Having read a few books in the Hellraiser series, I can say I probably will never want Pinhead to get his ice cream…

But Everville I read in high school, so bear with me, it’s been a while. Many critics have shared the same opinion as I have about Everville, that there are way too many fluffing people in this. There’s a gay teenager who hooks up with a hundreds of years old frontiersman, a frontier girl framed for just about everything that goes wrong, a winged creature name Coker, a receptionist having an affair, said receptionists manslaughtering beau, a girl possessed by someone named “Raul,” a squid-like creature possessing a hive-mind, and of course, Harry D’Amour. Confused? Well, so was I and that was probably because I never read The Great and Secret Show… however, Clive Barker does not make it very obvious that this is anything more than crazy Lovecraft inspired stories by a BDSM connoisseur…

Finally, The Devil’s Bible. I was immediately drawn in to read it by the cover and the title, as I have been reading many stories about the evil and/or supernatural (see above). Unfortunately, it turned out to be a romance novel. Not that there’s anything wrong with romance novels… but usually that isn’t my sort of thing. The story switches back and forth between 13th century Bohemia, which makes it the 1200s because time is a social construct, and the modern day. Our heroine, Mouse, is literally the Devil’s daughter. If you haven’t read the first one, oops. SPOILER. But you saw the already and chose not to listen. Didn’t you? You know what you did.

When I finished this book, I realized that this was a part of a trilogy, and great! But oh no, it was the second book. However, after having read the twists and turns of this one, having the flashbacks, as well as various historical ad-ins, I think I like this one better. It is what makes the romance part of it bearable. Even if you’re not into romance, you’ll still like it. I did start reading Part Three, Book of the Just, in addition to listening to the first one on audiobook since I already know what happens. The first book is about Mouse finding out who she is, falling in love with a king, and probably doing shy romance novel heroine stuff like fainting and feeling the “deep throb of his manhood” next to her leg. But Mouse, I can’t hate. There are some unmistakable similarities between her and myself that I might dedicate another post to. But for now, Mouse is a likable character not because she represents the quiet “mouse” in the corner, but because she subverts those expectations and finds the strength within herself to survive, with or without a man (including her father). Skip the first one, maybe. But don’t discount the next two just because you read some annoying sap.

So that’s my predicament. I consistently fall into the trap of reading a book series from the middle. To a lesser extent, movies because movies are usually advertised as such… And it doesn’t necessarily ruin the fun of the first one. I probably never would’ve read the Bohemian Gospel because it’s advertised as a romance novel while the second one is more of a historical fiction. I also never would’ve watched The Devil’s Rejects (okay, I probably would’ve, but not with as much fervor). And I have never read The Great and Secret Show, the prequel to Everville, but I have decided to pick it up now since its been almost ten years since I read Everville (when I was like, 10 *wink wink*). Happy reading!

And in that Moment… We Were Toilet Paper

This past week, hell, the last month, has been particularly rough for us all. Me personally, for the last few days I have been coerced into waking up at 6am to wake up my partner so they can be on time for work. Of course, since we’re all locked up in our houses like 500-lb shut-ins on TLC, this means being awake and coherent for a 9:30am telecommute.

And unsurprisingly, I have yet to accomplish anything of note. I have attempted to do many things of note, and subsequently failed those things. Started watching every single movie on the “List of Most Disturbing Horror Movies,” tried to read Bill Gates’ book list, tried to write a novel, tried to summon the spirit of Elizabeth Bathory for skin care tips….

What has this gotten me? A very confused brain and three empty pints of Ben & Jerry’s. The only thing I have to offer anyone this week is a few recommendations to help pass the time. So here are a few of the Socially Distant media I have been consuming.

Books/audiobooks: American Gods; so far so good. You would expect it to be hard to keep up with the dizzying pantheon of “gods,” but it’s mostly just a lot of fun and some kinky swallowing vagina sex (you’ll see if you read). The Devil’s Bible; a simple read for people who love history and all things historical fiction but really do not want to touch the tome that is, Pillars of the Earth. And finally, The Definitive Oral History of Metal (aka Louder than Hell). I would skip the Metalcore and Death Metal sections unless you’re a fan of gossiping middle aged men pretending to be Guns N Roses.

Movies: The Place Beyond the Pines; cannot say much, but this movie is hella underrated and the first 30 minutes of it will raise your estrogen levels to pregnant. Flu; what could be better than watching a film about a horrifyingly realistic pandemic in which the government kills its own people? But still, watch, because it’s a jewel as most South Korean horror is.

Podcasts: Behind the Bastards; underrated, slightly political enough to make you feel “woke” but not enough to make you want to bash your head against a cockroach infested wall like Pod Save America does. The Last Podcast on the Left; borderline bro, but the wacky stories are worth it. And Stuff to Blow Your Mind, because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, and who doesn’t want to be able to regale your friends with facts about coral reef sex and bicameral mind theory at your next virtual happy hour?

Finally, I would recommend, if you have not seen Tiger King (and you probably have because you don’t live in some Russian prison being fucked by the ghost of Trotsky) then WATCH IT so you can get on the train with the rest of us make fun of people who may slightly resemble members of my own family. And yes, people like that do exist because I am related to a few Florida Men.

Magic Inc. (Part 2): Is My Favorite Sci-fi Author Racist?

It is official, I have not been out of the house for an entire month! And no, I am not in “quarantine” because quarantine implies that you either have, or have been exposed to, a virus. I suppose quarantine is a catchier phrase than “social distancing,” but it is still misleading. I am social distancing my ass off… and I should add, that I am not going crazy as I had assumed I would. However, I did discover that it takes about 12 days of being within 100 feet of my partner at all times to become annoyed by them…

But you’re not here for that. You’re here because last week I wrote about Robert Heinlein’s Waldo, which has accompanied Magic Inc. in many adaptations and reprints. There are a few overarching themes in both that justify this pairing such as; both deal with an otherworldly sort of mysticism (magic isn’t quite the right word), both rely heavily on the theme of individualism, and both are kind of problematic.

Magic Inc. is different from Waldo in the sense that its magic is part of everyday life, and is even a bit mundane. It is a world full of magicians, witches, demons, and various other  fairy tale creatures. The story hovers on the border of fantasy and has a political angle. The main character, Archie, is a small business owner who only dabbles in magic. He is the quintessential “everyman” in a world of flight and fancy.

When he accompanies his friend Jed to Congress to lobby against a corporation threatening his (and all of his fellow compatriots’) business, he is just as exasperated and confused with the power games and bureaucracy inherent in the government as we are today. Although written 80 years ago, it is surprisingly modern. The only reason it has not aged well is its descriptions of African culture and an exoticized “other.”

He meets a PhD and “witch smeller” named Dr. Royce and is immediately taken aback. Dr. Royce had been recommended to Archie to help him clear out the “bad magic” hanging around in his shop. First of all, he seems genuinely surprised that Dr. Royce is a large black man, the phrase “Of course, why shouldn’t he be black?” is reminiscent of the “I’m not racist, I am just surprised that you are a person of color,” argument.

This, in addition to Archie referring to his hired contractors as “negroes,” smacks of 1940’s white exceptionalism, with African culture depicted as an exotic “other.” When explaining Dr. Royce’s magic techniques, Heinlein balances the slippery act of being legitimately interested and defending African folklore and traditions, and stereotyping them. The odd stereotypes withstanding, Heinlein does call out the destruction European nations have wreaked upon various non-European cultures via colonialism.

The verdict? Dated language, modern concepts. I give this story a 3.9/5 because I’m ambivalent about how much this book is “of its time,” and because there are some unnecessary parts that just drag out too damn long. Waldo Inc. gets a 4.5/5.

WALDO (Magic) INC: Is My Favorite Sci-fi Author Ableist?

This past week I finished two classic Robert Heinlein tales put together as a book. The first one, Waldo (1940) is about a disabled genius stereotyped as an intelligent but socially inept hermit. The second, Magic Inc., is a story of an average man running an average business, but it just so happens that magic is a part of his world.

This review will focus on Waldo, because it is the story that stuck out the most to me of the two. The eponymous main character is not discovered until a few chapters in, okay, fine. I like pleasant surprises. But Waldo was born with a horrible disease that rendered him all but paralyzed due to the fact that every step he took caused him pain. Waldo has his own isolated abode in space, the zero gravity apparently allows him to float and move about freely with little to no pain. Makes sense.

Waldo refuses to let anyone in his home, he takes most of his meetings through a space dummy that he uses to talk to his business partners and guests. He is rude, cannot stand the company of anyone or anything but his large dog (and uncle), and is almost annoyingly brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, many of these qualities could also describe me, but I possess those qualities not because I am disabled (which, I am), but because I’m an introvert.

Heinlein does at times acknowledge the situational and societal pressures that has made Waldo the way he is. But these explanations are borderline excuses. When Waldo comes to earth to seek help from an old man, Doc Schneider, who seems to know how to fix irreparably damaged technology, he is in immense pain. Instead of accommodating Waldo, Doc Schneider tells Waldo he needs to use the “magic” of the other world to grow strong.

Eventually, Waldo does. And he finds himself able to walk, pick up objects, and even dance (foreshadowing). The philosophy and physics of infinite universes plays heavily into the “magic” Waldo and the old man reach for. The concepts are a bit heady, and I found myself reading and rereading them a few times. However, they were accessible enough to the average layperson (not man, or woman… but person).

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say, I am ambivalent about it. To me, it is  almost implied that Waldo is expected to find it within himself to “just get over it” and “try harder” to overcome his illness. And the fact that he does, kind of makes this another gross misuse of the “inspiring handicapped.”

If you’re going to drink to this, I recommend doing it on audio because you might get lost if you’re not into philosophy, or crazy latter half of Tesla’s life physics. But the rules are as followed; drink if; 1. someone uses the phrase “Waldo” or “DeKalb” when referring to the giant hand machines, 2. someone has either gone crazy, or is assumed to have, 3. anyone becomes annoyed with Waldo’s “eccentricities.” Finish your drink whenever a dizzying, alternate universe theory is discussed, and not resolved.

My rating is a 4.5/5; good story, kind of ableist, and a disappointing ending.

Are the Classics Doomed?

You know those books you’ve either read, or at least know the plot of because 15 people in your 9th grade English class did presented it for their book reports? *cough* Old Man and the Sea *cough* Animal Farm.

The film industry has its own overrated, yet underrated, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, or even North by Northwest. These books and movies have entered the lexicon having been parodied, praised, and played/read ad nauseam. Most people know the major plots of these movies and books without ever having touched them because at some point in their lives, Americans (this experience is probably different in other countries), have seen the ending of these movies and have heard people analyze the entirety of the aforementioned books.

So does that mean it’s not worth reading? Not quite. First of all, reading is essential and one of the most important forms of self maintenance – aside from exercise and a healthy diet. And second, just because you think you know how a book ends doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable read. Ever hear the saying ‘it’s the journey not the destination,’ well that certainly applies to reading, and to movies. I used to work at a dine-in movie theater, which meant I was constantly slipping in and out of theaters at random moments during any given movie. Deadpool 2 had just come out and I knew the first 30 minutes of the film by heart. About 3 weeks after its release,  I finally took advantage of my free tickets and watched it. And you know what? I still loved it.

So even if you have seen Homer Simpson screaming obscenities at Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven, read it because the joke becomes that much funnier. Even if you have seen the kids of South Park drive their parents away by accusing them of sexual abuse and then proceed into a Lord of the Flies-type society in which they try to sacrifice an innocent couple to “The Provider,” read it. There are so many intricacies and details that will be lost on your experience of the story if you don’t read it firsthand. However, maybe it’s time for adult animation to find their own storylines instead of highjacking from better, more talented writers. Because not only does over-satirization and imitation drive people away from reading, but it also detracts from the story as a work of art.

And finally, what are my favorite “classics?” My favorites have always been ones that were less conventional like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Siddhartha, and Brave New World, The Time Machine, The Plague, and On the Road. There might have been a slight rebellious spirit behind my particular choices. Everyone was reading the tried and true so I just had to be different. My top three being Siddhartha, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is a little more conventional as a favorite, I realize, but I am a sucker for aesthetic.

Now I bet you’re asking yourself, can a book have an “aesthetic?” Yes, at least in my mind. I might go into detail on this later, but if you’ve ever felt your mood, attitude, and/or way of thinking change upon reading a book, this is the effect of an aesthetic. F. Scott Fitzgerald literally “colored my world” (cue Disney music here).

A rating system is not necessary here because since these are my favorites, all three get five stars. And if you haven’t read them, or its been a hot minute since you have, READ THEM. In the spirit of the roaring 20’s, I created a drinking game for The Great Gatsby. The rules are as followed: drink whenever… the eye is mentioned, there is an elaborate and nonsense plot point (like having a get together with your secret girlfriend’s husband and his secret girlfriend), and for run-on sentences (which happen A LOT). Finish that puppy when someone is murdered. 5/5 for my man FSG.

Absolute Smut with the Last Living Slut

Before you read this, you should know that the book I am about to talk about has trigger warnings, NSFW content, and borderline pulp novel writing. If that’s not your thing, but you still want to get the juice on your favorite rock stars behaving badly, I highly recommend Pamela Des Barres’ classic oldie but goodie, “I’m With the Band,” or the lesser known “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Both are acceptable reads. “Please Kill Me,” is great for punk fans, and either Slash or Keith Richards’ autobiographies are fun for hard rock lovers.

Now, about a year ago (give or take) I had the misfortune, as well as the delight, of reading Roxana Shirazi’s memoir, “The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage.” Who is Roxana Shirazi you may ask? Only the most famous rock n’ roll groupie of the 21st century that you’ve never heard of.

This book is basically two books in one. The first half is a thoughtful memoir of a young Irani girl forced to immigrate to London with her grandmother during the revolution of 1979. Its full of poetry, blissful scenes of exotic lands, and heart-wrenching childhood experiences. But then we get to the second half. Which is basically just hardcore porn.

From group sex with Buckcherry, to anal with Synister Gates, to being the ‘Yoko Ono of Hookers N’ Blow,’ this book is unapologetic, nasty, and fun. While I’m With the Band is a celebration of musicians and admires groupies as muses, Shirazi’s “Slut” pulls no punches. She fully acknowledges her place in the fading glittery remnants of the hair metal sunset strip scene, and doesn’t apologize for it. She is full of contradictions; proud ‘slut,’ accomplished author, abuse survivor, gossip mongerer, Master’s degree holder…

In the end, she forges her own path after realizing the gross double standards men in the music industry (and virtually EVERYWHERE) have towards the women they are sexually active with. She’s a whore, but she isn’t your whore. She’s a proud Irani woman, but she isn’t the traditional quiet and religious ‘good girl,’ despite her soft-spoken voice. And after having read a few of her articles, she’s really damn smart.

Despite some of the less than artistic language in the second half of the book, I honestly respect her for owning her own legacy and taking back the power from her abusers (#fuckDizzyReed). That leads me to my final thoughts… Should I bring back the drinking game? Yes, I’m bringing it back. The rules are simple, and you can safely get drunk to this without getting confused. 1. Drink whenever she name drops a more than semi-famous figure (re: Nikki Sixx, not London LeGrand), 2. drink for outfit descriptions, 3. drink whenever a threesome is mentioned, and 4. finish your drink when she mentions an outdated technology. Yeah, she and Dizzy apparently met over email. 2008 much? My final rating? 3.8/5 because it’s really darn fun, funny, and sometimes even insightful.