Salt Plains 3

Part 1 Part 2

I wanted someone to see me for who I really am, you know? Not just “captain of the cheerleading squad” and “most beautiful girl in school.” I wanted someone to see the me inside…and that was you

The beautiful girl on the screen kissed the man wearing glasses and wearing clothes that didn’t fit right. An upbeat song about love and finding your dreams began to play as the camera zoomed out and the credits began to roll. John turned the monitor off and laid down in the dark. Time passed, but sleep did not come. He thought of taking some sleep medication. His dreams were always the worst on disposal days. No sleep meds tonight. He wanted to drive, but…

Something is out in the salt plains. What if it saw you? Who’s going to take care of the sleepers if something happens?

No. There is nothing. There is no one. I am alone.

John grabbed his night goggles and headed for the door.

***

The wind was strong, but the night sky was clear. The faint band of far off celestial bodies clustered together to form clouds against the dark. The car darted along the dusty road, abandoned structures and piles of rubble flew by. The milky purple sky remained motionless. John arrived. He stepped out of his car before the expanse of land that lay before him shimmering in the night. The hood of his protective cloak had not been secured properly. Cold wind whipped against the small patch of naked skin. The windburn would be painful in the morning, but he didn’t care. He sat on the ground and stared up at the endless dome above him.

The birth and death of all things had occurred under that same sky, all things to come would do the same. The sky and the stars will one day pass away too, but what will be there to witness and mark its passing? Who will be there to mark my own?

John waited. No lights appeared on the horizon. “It was just my imagination.” he said aloud. He picked up a rock and throw it into the empty ocean. It bounced a few times and then lay still among the other rocks. Rocks that served no purpose in a dead ocean on a dead planet where there was nothing but death to look forward to. The exposed skin on his face hurt. He reached up to fix it, but instead tore the hood from his head in rage and threw it at the car. The wind blew his hair about and stung his face. The pain was real, he was real, this was real. This wasn’t some simulation for electronic ghosts orbiting the planet until the end of time. The rocks were real too. He could just lay down there among them in the freezing night and drift away to whatever waited for him after all of this.

“You should put your hood back on. It’s cold out here.” a voice called out.

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Orcs and trucks

I had given up on Shadow of Mordor, not knowing how near I was to finishing it. Every now and then I felt an itch to go back and make an attempt. Even if I wound up ragequitting again, killing orcs and pitting brute against brute was fun in stretches.

Well, I beat it this weekend. And I even ran into that Bloodlicker guy at one point near the end, no joke. He wasn’t alive long enough to do much licking, but.

The game’s got a lot going for it, and I’d heartily recommend picking it up during a sale (or for full price if you’re one of them rich folk with dollars to burn). That is, of course, dependent on a certain tolerance for (well-done, albeit) Middle Earth fanfic. The writers put together a decent story, but there are some pretty egregious changes to Celebrimbor and Sauron and the nature of the ring. If you can get past that and just slay some orcs, though, it’s good fun.

Mordor isn’t quite as barren and Verdun-y as I imagine it was intended to be, but there are all sorts of barby things and sinister towers. Orcs quarrel and grumble and brag amongst themselves as you slink around. Power struggles go on and orcs get promoted or die with or without your intervention.

There are many little touches that make for an immersive and enjoyable experience. You may kill orc captains, but they don’t really “die” until you cut off their heads, which so far as I can tell is random. I ran into this drunk orc (that was his “thing”) three or four times, and with each encounter he became more and more disfigured. At the end he was missing half his face, replaced by metal plating.

Being able to ride beasts was cool, as were many of the wraith powers. The biggest draw for me was the ability to dominate (ghosty-mind-control?) enemies. Not only can they help turn the tide of large skirmishes for you, but the ability affords you a bit of flexibility in accomplishing your objectives.

The quest I was stuck on was tied up in dominating a particular warchief, but he would only show up if you grabbed one of his followers and made him squeal for help. The problem was, this dude would always be hanging out in the middle of a fort with a big posse. Every attempt I made to lure him off by himself failed and led to a never-ending battle that ended in either retreat or the death of the follower.

Finally it occurred to me that I could just get one of my own lackeys to challenge the warchief. So long-story-short, I did. Little did the chump know that his bodyguards were also my creatures. And so I just showed up and it was no difficult task to overpower and dominate him.

It was pretty fun to send my captains and warchiefs on missions, too. By the end of the game I had a strong enough group that they were able to wipe out the Black Gate captains and forces almost on their own (I helped a little).

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So that’s Shadow or Mordor.

I’ve also been playing a bit of American Truck Simulator, which isn’t something I’d ever have imagined myself getting into.

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But with all the politics injected into everything and the culture wars raging, sometimes a game like this can really hit the spot.

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I mean, sometimes it all just makes you want to kill hordes of orcs. And sometimes it makes you just want to deliver construction equipment from Flagstaff to Carson City while listening to streaming country radio.

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-Bushi

bushi

Thoughts on Tarzan: it was fine

I recently finished up reading Tarzan of the Apes, because I could no longer respect myself as an Appendix N/old school SFF blogger who hadn’t done so yet (though it may be worth noting that Tarzan isn’t actually Appendix N). I’ve been meaning to write sooner, but my flesh husk has been busy regenerating from a viral plague, among other preoccupations, some of which might involve simulated trucks.

At the risk of becoming the one PulpRev-oriented site that speaks occasionally unflatteringly and repeatedly of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan was okay.

I’ve never been big on jungle adventures, honestly. The Solomon Kane tales that did were excellent because Robert E. Howard is a baller. Seriously, if you haven’t read any of the Kane stories, you should. It’s arguably some of his best stuff – even better than Conan.

But the Jungle Book media that I’ve consumed never impressed me, and I’ve never found King Kong (I know, it doesn’t all take place there) to be particularly interesting.

If you’ve never read it, your image of Tarzan, shaped by clips of old black and white films, the Disney animation, and parodies like George of the Jungle, probably amounts to an adult Mowgli-type dude who was raised by gorillas and swings around on tree vines yodeling.

As is the case with Frankenstein and probably numerous other classics, the modern perception is far removed from the reality of the character.

For one thing, the apes that raised Tarzan aren’t gorillas. They are more intelligent (even having a primitive vocal language of their own) and distinct from the other apes of the jungle.

Tarzan himself may owe a spark of inspiration to Mowgli, but the character is basically a superhero, and I think it helps to think of many of ERB’s protagonists in this way. Tarzan is incredibly strong and adaptable, possessed of superior intellect, and is both primal and cultured. It takes him mere weeks or months to go from a savage ape-man to a European gentleman in speech and manner.

Also, Tarzan does not yodel when he swings around. He gives a ferocious cry after making a kill.

By the way, mild spoiler alert here.

I grew to like the Tarzan character. My main complaints with the story aren’t with him, for the most part. I do think he’s a little too perfect, but again, if you think of him as a proto-Superman (similar to John Carter in some ways), this is fine.

Mostly I found almost all of the supporting characters to be unbelievable and irksome. Tarzan’s French captain companion isn’t bad. He serves his purpose as Tarzan’s main gateway to civilization and the world of Man, building upon the groundwork laid by the cabin of Tarzan’s father.

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The hero’s cousin, Clayton, is also a fine man and a decent character. This presents its own problems. Namely, Clayton is a rival for Jane’s affections and for Tarzan’s title and inheritance. This sets up Tarzan to be noble and self-sacrificing, but it’s also a somewhat uncomfortable feeling for the reader (or at least for me). Clayton is shown to be handsome, brave, and noble. But he’s also an obstacle for the hero.

I don’t intend to read the sequel, so I read the plot synopsis for the Return of Tarzan and I see that ERB deals with this by changing Clayton and making him a coward. This enables Jane to break off their engagement because he is now a cad. Poor Clayton. It would have been better for him had he died in the jungle, it seems. But oh well – Jane has to end up with Tarzan somehow, and we can’t have anyone feeling guilty on Clayton’s account!

Before we get to Jane, her father and his companion are almost insufferable. Wandering into the jungle for no reason, arguing academic and philosophic points while being chased by a predatory cat and then rescued by Tarzan, and then refusing to follow him: perhaps these antics were meant to be comical, but I just found them exasperating.

As for Jane, I agree with my friend Alex of Cirsova, who commented that she is the worst of the ERB women. She is alternatingly indecisive and rash, as well as fickle. Jane is part of the reason Clayton doesn’t work as well as he could have. At the start of the story, the two are taken with one another. And why not? She’s pretty, and he’s a handsome, brave, virtuous, rich British noble. But as soon as she gets a look at Tarzan, she’s instantly over Clayton and smitten with our jungle god. Because man is he hawt.

This may cut close to reality, and we pulp fans do like our alpha males who take what they want. But it reflects poorly on Jane, I think. Clayton is a fine, upstanding man whose only demerit here is that he’s not an exotic demigod. He’s a likable character and he’s just been spurned by the female lead for purely superficial reasons. Understandable, perhaps, and realistic, sure. But not very admirable.

Besides this, at least in the first book Jane doesn’t really show any of the fierceness (or of course loyalty) that Dejah Thoris and even Dian of Pellucidar do.

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A couple things in the book’s favor – ERB was masterful at both action and at hitting certain emotional beats (that he seems to hit in every story, but they keep working!). The same is true in Tarzan. There’s some epic action, and some gripping feelzy moments. I especially liked the story of Tarzan’s parents.

So it was an enjoyable read. I’m glad I read it. But I don’t really feel much desire to continue with the series. I’ve still got a bunch of Barsoom waiting for me!

-Bushi

bushi

Salt Plains 2

Part 1

The rest of the drive back to the compound was a blur. Next thing he knew he was sitting in the dark of his room staring at switched off monitors. He turned them on. The vital signs of the sleepers looked normal. He put on a movie made for young adults about courtship rituals that used to be common in schools:

“So…ummm…you going to the dance with anyone?”

“Not yet…”

“Want to go with me?”

“Thanks, but I was kind of waiting for another person to ask me…sorry”

“Oh, yeah, sure no problem…see you around”

The boy on screen turns away from the rejection and tries to hurry down the hall just as the cleaning man turns the corner pushing a large garbage bin. The boy lands face first in the bin. Everyone laughs.

John turned off the monitor. He walked over to his bed and laid down. When he closed his eyes he dreamed of falling down a bottomless chasm. As he fell he watched a light above him get smaller and smaller until it was just a speck, then it was no more.

***

John awoke to a steady alarm sounding from the vital signs monitor. He walked over and silenced the alarm. The words “Soul transference complete” flashed on the screen. He put on his clothes and goggles, then headed out into the scorch of the sun.

The winds kicked up dust as he walked the short distance to the main sleeper building. He had made this walk countless times, but this time felt different. There was someone, or something, else out there. It was always a possibility that others were still alive, be it in other similar compounds or…somewhere else. He half expected to see some monstrosity waiting for him on the other side of the fence. Nothing but dust and solar panels greeted him. Maybe it was all in his mind.

John entered the main sleeper chamber and immediately saw a red light blinking above a glass tube in the back corner of the room. The red light signaled that transfer had completed and the body had been shed. He checked the monitor attached to the tube, “Transfer complete.” was all it said. He looked in the tube and saw a the body of a woman. She was 54 years old at time of transference. John remembered her. She had been there when he was tested for genetic compatibility with the process, had told his weeping parents that their son was condemned to mortality on a dying planet of dust and wind, but that he could still serve. Someone had to stay, now the choice was easy.

John disconnected the metal tube from all of the sensors and loaded it onto a powered cart. He guided the cart out of the sleeping chamber and into the disposal building. This was his least favorite part of the process. He loaded the glass tube onto the trap door mechanism that hung above a large vat of chemicals used for the disintegration of husks. For a moment the face of the woman was even with his, and though it was impossible he feared she might open her eyes and condemn him again. She did not. He pulled a lever and the tube released its contents into the liquid below. John remembered what it felt like to dispose of the bodies of his own parents, how he wept despite knowing that they were nothing more than empty organic shells. This time he felt nothing.

He took the now empty glass tube to storage in an adjacent building. The tube was placed among other glass tubes, indistinguishable from the rest. John wasn’t sure why he was storing the tubes, no one else was going to use them. It just felt…necessary to keep them. He wanted to remember. He looked at the room full of empty glass glittering in the sunlight that managed to get in through the open door. They reminded him of the stars. It was almost beautiful…almost. 

Frustrations with Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been reading more slowly lately. Life, plus an obsession with a mobile game* as a stress reliever.

I am really trying to like Pulp. There is much to like about Pulp. But there is also much to dislike about Pulp.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) provides some good examples of both.

I’ve read enough of ERB and Robert E. Howard that I can get into a pulp mindset where I turn off my writing critic and just enjoy the story.  And *still* ERB annoys with some of his poor plotting mechanics.

I have to conclude that ERB was great at coming up with an amazing archetype of a hero, and then just writing about his bad-ass character. His fame comes from being the first to have such a bad-ass character, rather than from actual writing talent.

Maybe that’s harsh. I know it’s going to irritate some people. But look, I’ve read The Monster Men (which was one of ERB’s later works, and an attempt to be more literary), and while it still had some problems, it was actually a fairly well-written book, with some twists, some character complexity, proper foreshadowing, etc.

But I’m still in the midst of slogging through Gods of Mars, and there are just so many examples of poor writing.

I feel like nearly every 3-4 pages there’s an example of poor writing that jars me out of my Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Sometimes it is having incredible luck that saves John Carter from failure/death or otherwise continue the narrative. One would be irritating, but there have been at least 10 so far…way too many.  Examples: How was it John Carter to Barsoom returned just in time to encounter Tars Tarkas? How was it Tars Tarkas wasn’t the Green Warrior surprised by the unexpected jumping tactics of the Plant Men? How did Thuvia and Tars happen to be right at the location where the damaged air car of John Carter, Xodar, and Carthoris comes to ground?  Why does Thuvia have the ability of nearly perfect telepathy with beasts? Is this something other Barsoomians have? The answer seems to be that ERB needed something to get the characters through a nearly-impossible situation, so he just pulled something out of the air and ran with it.

Or the characters encounter an obstacle, and what do you know, they just happen to have the ability/item they need, right at that moment, but ERB just forgot to mention it before then! This is probably the most irritating, because it gives an impression of first draft writing: if your writing leads you to put your characters into a difficult situation, you go back and add the solution earlier in the work, at a time that it won’t seem unusual or significant.  Call it effective foreshadowing, call it effective preparation to  avoid a deus ex machina, I don’t really know the right way to put it. But ERB completely misses the mark for this in A Princess of Mars and Gods of Mars.

One that bothers me even more, however, is when ERB is inconsistent with the world and the rules of the world he himself set up.  In A Princess of Mars, he explains at length that the Green Men have rifles capable of amazing long distance accuracy, and the marksmanship skills to use them at incredible ranges. Yet when the Green Men would reasonably use that advantage in a way that might hurt the main characters, the Green Men conviently forget to use them.  A prime example of this (which I just read, and pushed me over the edge to needing to write this complaint) is when the Warhoons are chasing John Carter’s band after he rescued Tars Tarkas, but the Warhoons merely pursue them instead of shooting their mounts from underneath them. Another example is several pages earlier when John Carter merely follows Tars’ escorting guards through the dungeon, intead of attacking them immediately to free Tars. And immediately following when John Carter regretfully feels forced to ambush Tars’ guards, clearly feeling it was not up to his standards of fairness.  This bothers me because John Carter had not hesitated to attack far more than just four Green Men warriors previously, and he had killed one with a single blow from his fist before. Why would he hesitate in this situation, and why would he finally decide on a somewhat-dishonorable ambush? Inconsistency.

There are other things to like about the book, but this isn’t really a book review. I like it better than the Land that Time Forgot, because when I put The Gods of Mars down, I do want to pick it up again.  But it isn’t compelling me to reach the finish like The Monster Men did.

I’m not saying the book sucks.  But it does spur contemplation on the nature of successful writing. Should I sacrifice quality for speed in writing? Should I just come up with a great character and not stress plot and consistency?  Why does the best of SFF pulp have this many problems, but the best of Western and Detective Noir do not?

Okay, come at me.

* Kingdom Rush. My obsession is finishing every level without using any of the one-time use special abilities you can purchase with diamonds.  I’m almost done. I’m stressed because the new job I mentioned on Twitter as getting hired for FIVE MONTHS AGO still hasn’t given me a start date. Long story there.

Guitar Lust: Why Don’t They Make More “Blackout” Models?

  • by Gitabushi

Okay, maybe “blackout” isn’t the right term.  That’s part of the problem: there is no name for the style of guitar I like best. What I’m talking about is a Stratocaster-style guitar, with black hardware, black pickguard, black headstock, and black fretboard, and just about any body color, combine to make what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful guitar imaginable.

Let me pause a moment and discuss taste.  Specifically, my taste. I’m kind of a rebel. I like what I like, and it seems like I always like the things that are a little different. Okay, a lot different.  For instance, I genuinely like the movie “Orcs!” (2011).  I love listening to Chinese pop music; but my wife tells me that even for Chinese pop, I like the songs most other people have never heard of. When I’m not listening to Chinese music, my favorite band is Styx, which garners more than a little derision. I like 80s hair metal, too, which would be embarrassing enough, except that I like Giant and Loudness, two of the least-popular hair metal bands that were just popular enough you might have heard of them.

But I’m not a hipster. I’ve never stopped liking someone or something because they got popular. In fact, I’m usually very eager to share the things I like with other people, in hopes of it catching on.

I would like everyone to watch and like Chuck and Flash Forward. The more people that like Chinese pop music, Chuck, CJ Cherryh, etc., the more people I have to talk with about my passions.

Alas: my tastes are apparently weird.

So getting to guitars, here’s what I like:

This is Brad Gillis’ guitar. Er, a guitar made by Fernandes in the style of Brad Gillis’ guitar.

It is, quite simply, bad ass.

(the opposite being found here)

And yet, it is very difficult to find many guitars that have all those elements. I had to search for quite some time just to find these pictures:

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And to be honest, there is no telling what the headstock looks like in these photos.  Too often, they go with a plain headstock or a body color, instead of plain black.

If I want to get really picky, I’d insist on a strat style headstock, which leaves this one out:

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But I think I have to allow it, just because there are so few examples that meet all my criteria.

Too often, the manufacturer changes one thing that just makes the guitar fall short of perfection, like a chrome bridge, or light colored fretboard, or the aforementioned headstock color mistakes:

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Close. They just *had* to use a chrome bridge, didn’t they?  Bastards:

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Just imagine how gorgeous this red guitar below would look with a black input jack, black bridge, and black tuners!

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This is so close to perfection, I could almost cry. Or grab a brush and some black paint:

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And Charvel is an interesting case.  The orange guitar above is rare, in that it has a rosewood fingerboard.  Charvel comes the closest to what I want with black hardware and beautifully-painted bodies.  But they insist (or their buyers insist) on maple fretboard and unfinished headstock.  It just ruins it for me.

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These would all be better if they just had an ebony fingerboard and black headstock.

Interestingly, this one works pretty well for me:

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I guess I’m okay with a gray pickguard.  It still looks better than white, or tortoise, or any other color.  Black would still be better.

This guitar I have is the closest I’ve been able to get so far.  The headstock isn’t black, but at least it isn’t a light maple:

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So now you have an idea of what I like in guitars.  Why aren’t there more of them? Or at the very least, why isn’t there a name for this color combination to make it easier for me to search for them on guitar selling websites?