Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always liked Gogol, but wow, the Russian 19th century writers really catch the subtleties of society and the underclass like nobody else I have read. Gogol is no exception. His stories showcase the life of underpaid bureaucrats and working stiffs getting screwed by the system, show the slow decline into madness, and the utter spite and desire to wield power of the upper class.

Despite reading quite a lot of the major authors of the day, I am not sure why writers like Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and later Bulgakov were so adept at depicting the eccentricity of life. Perhaps its because Russia was a massively changing society with a fierce repressive apparatus and a heavily politicized cultural and artistic society. You can see how Gogol weaves criticism while staying a little bit beneath the careful eyes of the censors.

I think of all the stories in this compendium, the overcoat really hit my soul the most, because a poor man that meant completely well just was utterly fucked by a combination of fairly normal people trying to act important and leaving this worker to just fall through the cracks. Its a masterpiece of build up and subtlety, and you can totally see how it influence later stories like A Christmas Carol. Dostoyevsky later remarked "We have all come from under the overcoat"....and I agree. If anything, this just makes me want to read more of Gogol.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have so many mixed feelings on this collection of Conan stories. On the one hand many of them are massively influential on the fantasy genre, contain really poignant moments and powerful action sequences. Conan is a visceral brock sampson like force of nature who has his epic of a life told out in viking saga style stories of bravery. I did like some of the imagery of lost civilizations, poetic speeches, villainous wizards and priests, and gritty as fuck interactions which dont really leave you feeling that anyone is a good guy. (and most of these were written in the 30s, so its before the genre was really fleshed out.)

On the other hand there are moment of serious racism and sexism which are really hard to ignore. In particular, is the trash of a story towards the end of the book, "The Vale of lost women" which literally includes the quotes from a racist and "helpless" white woman captured by a Black tribe:

"You are a barbarian like these others- only your skin is white, your soul is black as care naught that a man of your own color has been foully done to death by these black dogs - that a white woman is their slave!"

and "Am I not fair? Am I not more desirable than these soot-colored wenches? Am I not a worthy reward for blood-letting? Is not a fair skinned virgin a price worth slaying for?" [the craziest thing about this story in particular is that its the most racist and sexist and is also written in 1967, 40 years after most of the others]

Now granted, Conan himself doesn't say these racist things, but the book portrays characters of Black men as rapists, violent, and utterly uncivilized. With white women being objects of desire who seems to often be lording over or captives of Black men.

Lastly, the stories differ in Conan's role: pirate, thief, king, warrior, wanderer, mercenary, etc... but they seem to have a similar style to HP Lovecraft (they were friends, which also explains the racism), which usually involves some woman or weak lord is in distress, bumps into Conan by accident, Conan agrees to help, kills lots of enemy people, then some crazy creatures show up scaring everyone and conan fights the thing, killing it and getting fucked up in the process.

I swear, with the amount of wounds conan takes, its amazing he doesnt end up crippled after each story. There is even one battle where his ear is half hacked off and his skin peeled off his whole back.

My take away. The first few stories are an interesting read and i enjoyed qualities of them. If you enjoy HP lovecraft, Brock Sampson, and Beserk, this is right up your alley. Some of it is too formulaic and racist for me though and I dont think Im going to read the second of the Anthology.

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