Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fiend Excerpt: Rock The Casbah!

The following picks up where previous Fiend excerpt, Barbary Nights, left off...

You're looking green, Doctor. Are my tales so terrible? At least I had the decency to face them - the tribe, that is. Anglo ships routinely blasted anyone close to shore with their cannons - just for the perverted thrill of it! At least I drink blood like a proper monster...

I couldn't very well continue with the old con after that. No Kinch, for one. No one to guide me or play bloodhound or help clean the vermin from me when I woke up every evening... I considered - briefly - trying my luck out in the dessert. The last gasp of blood madness - my first time seeking refuge in those ever shifting sands and a gust of wind would have uncovered me at high noon! Seen me scorched to a cinder! Reason won out, thanks to such a prospect...

I spent the first few nights hoping from one scrub brush of a farm to the other. Really just hill cottages, one sickly family and half a head of goats. The family served to fill me up the first night and subsequent nights I picked at the goats before moving on... A dark time, I confess. Dark and ever so dull...

Though it served to keep my strength up and my skin out of daylight until I could find something approaching civilization...

Algiers! That great port of the Ottomans and their corsairs! Or rather sea fort - the Casbah looming high on the rocks, the Low City sprawling beneath it and into the shore. No fit place for a white man at that time, of course. They'd just taken a heavy beating by English cannon and - while their lords promised no more Christian slaves - the hoi poloi held to no such promises. Any white face they saw, they cut! Hispaniola all over again!

I hid in cisterns during the day, soaking my now tattered clothes. At night, I crawled forth as some common ghul, snatching the unsuspecting and the lame into the alleys between the squat buildings. And resisting the urge to drink my fill - such a powerful urge! every time, Doctor! - it made for quite a meager subsistence...

I grew bitter... I grew tired... But I did not grow sloppy...

I'd learned from Hispaniola and that wandering of the coast, I assure you! No daring the locals, no flagrant monstrousness, just a common thief in the night. A blood thief. It served me well, all things considered...

So well in fact that I went completely unnoticed for some good deal of time. Years, even! Until I awoke one evening to hear on the streets above the voices of French soldiers! They'd come and captured the city while I slept!

Oh what a relief to walk the streets as a man again! Not some skulking cutthroat! Though I had to skulk a little at first, until I could catch some corporal who wandered off from where his unit was celebrating their victory with a bottle of wine. Carried in a soldier's pack from across the sea! It infused the corporal's blood, made it all the sweeter!

His uniform though... Explain to me, Doctor, why fashion trends so to the constricting? Last time I'd had proper clothes, they'd flowed and ruffled over me! Was that merely because my Anna had more aesthetics in mind than the practicalities of battle? Never mind, it just felt good to be in trousers again...

And those French weren't just in for a bit of pillage. They'd taken the whole coast! Brought in their own ministers. I suppose they'd quit Hispaniola too... I walked the streets openly in my stolen uniform and those moors didn't dare to cut me!

Well, one did... An old pirate with more salt than sense. He stormed up to me, spitting Moorish insults and reaching for his dagger. With a swift kick to the stomach, I sent him sailing across the Casbah!

Oh it felt like the old days again... I could rent rooms again, with the gold rings and lapis lazuli plucked from my prey... When I began drawing attention with my stolen uniform, I tracked down some appropriately sized minister and made a trade - after drinking him into unconsciousness. I think he got time in the stockade before anyone could piece together his true identity...

But soon as these French soldiers and ministers had the run of the place, they were thrown in disarray! Not by the moors, but by their own homeland! While they'd been covering themselves in glory in Algiers, they're king had been deposed. For the second time, I might add! One night I'd walked beneath the Casbah, seeing French uniforms keeping the locals under heel, and next they were all sailing away to be replaced by migrants who freely mixed with all the moors, went native in coffee shops and around water pipes.

A shock, certainly, but I followed suit to keep up the appearance of being just another occupier. It was then I acquired my smoking habit, the Moorish hookah providing all the chummy warmth of the tavern or public house without my having to feign interest in wine.

Ah, how the brutality of war is forgotten! Or not forgotten, not on every side... But those French, so different from the mad bastards who'd stormed across Germany and battered Besancon and... You know, they didn't just mingle with the moors? No, invited them into the business of the white man. The government! Let them join their Armee d'Afrique! The French had a real change of heart after Hispaniola, got that democracy fever...

I'm not so sure the moors appreciated it as much... You could see it in their eyes, if you knew what to look for... I'd seen it in Jeannot's eyes, that slow-burning hate... All the stronger when their conquerors deigned to treat them as human...

I would broach this to a few around the water pipe in the evenings. Tried to explain "sharmutah" was not some Moorsih honorific. They didn't want to listen... They'd stormed across the sea to conquer this blighted land for the glory of France!

Particularly this one little captain of cuirassiers, a provincial named Julien. The Chevalier de la Croix, as he insisted with the urgency of the recently titled. He believed every word of those ministers about "civilizing" the poor heathen Moors...

"We've brought them true government! True religion!" he'd insist as we sat around a pipe.

"And they'll never forgive you for it!" I laughed.

I could get away with such impertinence as Julien and the other young officers who followed him around all took me for some pirate -

"Don't listen to that old villain!" they would laugh right back, consoling their little captain. "He's just pulling your leg! Just having a laugh at us!"

And Julien would listen to them, because he so wanted to believe in France. Those citizen-soldiers... they took their duty and their lofty nonsense seriously. To the death! Nothing like them anymore...

Oh I admired the little idiot, Doctor. I admired his conviction, his courage, all the way to his ignoble end... I was there, though I was not the cause. Not directly...

I was walking through the High City with him one evening - he returning to the barracks, I planning to run down some tramp or other in the alleys - when out of the dark struck something I should have expected. I heard nothing but the young Julien's heartbeat, smelled nothing but his blood... then I smelled his blood all too much, his throat having been opened in the blink of an eye!

The little captain crumpled to the ground beside me! I fell into a fighting stance - though against who I couldn't begin to guess. No sound betrayed this murderer, no scent... Like when I met that dread baron...

And next - a slash at me! Only by quickly raising my arms did I keep that shimmering, curved dagger from slicing my nose clean off! It stung as it sunk into my flesh - unnatural strength driving it nearly to bone! See this here? The scar? That didn't happen in the war...

I whipped about to face my enemy. A blur of Moorish robes, again the flashing knife - but I was ready! I feinted one way, drawing out the knife, and as this undead assassin regrouped I struck back!

This Maur Nocta fought like some venomous serpent, striking with swift precision and retreating to do so again. From Bohemia to the Antilles, I'd acquired the habits of a bull - all forward power! No quarter asked or expected! I battered this demonio de la noche, the burning knife only spurring me on this time!

What a ruckus we caused! What a sight of whirling, slashing, smashing brutality! What a joy to fully indulge in my otherworldly strength! I tell you Doctor - the God's honest truth - pretty soon I was laughing like a tickled child!

The knife thrust into my chest - only very nearly missing the heart! - and stuck in the ribs. My assailant pulled back a bare hand... Exultant, I gripped the miserable villain by the neck and hurled them across the square! Into a cart of reeking fish!

I sauntered over to my enemy, plucking the knife from my chest as one may brush off soot or sawdust. I cast what Moorish insults I knew - or thought I knew - at the robed figure struggling to stand back up on a now broken leg. Things I'd heard Kinch throw about from time to time - or were thrown at him by that last clan. Imagine my surprise when my response should be -

"Pedicabo ergo vos et irrumabo!"

And in a startlingly feminine voice...

Read the whole thing in paperback or the e-reader of your choice!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going and Going and Going...

Gone Girl is a hit and likely due to suck up a whole slew of Academy Awards. This is warranted by the first third of the movie, a haunting and at times skin-crawling examination of the All American Marriage.

Nick Dunne - Ben Afleck at his commendably least Afleckiest - is just any other suburban self-centered oaf. He doesn't know as much about his wife as he should, spends more time on ESPN and beer than any deep and contemplative thoughts, and just can't stop looking like a jackass when the national media needs to depict a grieving husband. In Nick, David Fincher presents an Everyman with the very unflattering warts of every man thrust into a crisis with the whole world watching and judging.


It's a mystery not just of what happened to wife Amy Dunne but also what happened to the happy couple that had once been Nick and Amy. As the police, represented by the smartest detective in the South and her doltish sidekick, uncover more clues so does Amy's diary reveal more and more of just what went wrong between her and Nick.

That's the first third of the movie. Then everything blasts off to Bizarro World.

Amy not only faked her death - spoiler alert - she did it in such a way as to frame Nick for murder. And not just frame him, she intentionally cultivated a friendship with the bubbly baby factory neighbor so as to both provide a counter-narrative to Nick's after she disappears but also to harvest pregnant lady pee, so that the whole world will think Nick Dunne murdered his pregnant wife. She even contemplates suicide just so as to further implicate Nick. It's a brilliant and alien cunning that feels utterly detached from the slow boil that has been Gone Girl up until this point.

It could almost work if it served as the finishing twist of the film. A great big "Gotcha!" on both Nick and the audience as the last anniversary scavenger hunt clue she leaves him essentially explains her whole grand plan. If we'd faded to black just as realization dawn's on Nick's big stupid face, this would be an okay movie.

But it keeps going. And going. And going...

Amy runs into a snag in her grand scheme when she gets mugged by reality. Reality in this case being a young couple at the motel where she's hiding, the better half of which delivers the fantastic line "You look too rich to've ever really been hit," and then proceeds to really hit her. If the movie had stuck with this brutal logic it would have been great but no, Amy gets Doogie Howser to come rescue her not just from poverty and privation but from the implosion of her schemes.

While Nick's affair with a hilariously dense girl becomes national news, Amy forges a new narrative in which she escapes from Doogie's sex dungeon. This involves sticking a wine bottle up her hooha to simulate rape trauma, which Amy is adept at faking. She did it once to a boyfriend because, despite being invented by a woman, Amy Dunne is a caricature of every MRA fear.

"I shall rule them all with my hypno-vagina!"

This latest narrative takes hold because Amy's disappearance - and stinking rich parents - have made her the nation's sweetheart. Nick goes along with it because, like any mediocrity who lets slip his latent misogyny from time to time, he is absolutely worthless. And Amy had kept some of his frozen sperm, just in case she needed to manipulate him with pregnancy. Seriously, a woman wrote this?

It's utterly laughable by the end, not because of Amy's psycho-bitch evil but because it all started out so good. David Fincher is turning into the second coming of Kubrick with his camera work, infusing the early scenes with both the flat emptiness of the American heartland as well as the creeping dread not only of what could have happened to Amy but how the media gleefully scrambles to graft a narrative onto a tragedy with little regard for the truth. Plus the best cinematic use of an orange tabby other than Inside Llewyn Davis.

Then it all goes so far off the rails. And what most worries me is that this sort of ham-fisted madness isn't just hailed as brilliant, it's viewed as acceptable.

Fincher maintains a studiously realistic tone all through these shenanigans that would have been better handle by a blackly comic satire like Schizopolis. To reiterate - Amy fakes rape claims as a matter of course, outright murders Doogie Howser, and it's hardly a secret between her and Nick by the end, with even Tyler Perry and the hyper-competent Southern detective having a good laugh over it all. As someone on Twitter put it: "Help me famous lawyer and detective!" "Nope, that would undermine the plot."

Yet audiences and even the highbrow critics accept this lunacy at face value. "Well, it just illustrates how messed up Amy is," some say. A collection of human ears would show just how messed up Bree Van de Camp was, but the makers of Desperate Housewives had the good goddamn sense not to take such a cartoonish leap. So too does Amy's Hannibal Lector level of hypercompetence obliterate the excellent noir tone Fincher spends the first third of the film establishing. What could have been the best movie of the year turns into a kaleidoscope of plot holes and paranoid fantasies.

That it takes for fucking ever to resolve this nonsense is almost the lesser crime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Swine Fever

No sooner does America work up a good head of crazy over ISIS than a real threat pops up. While both they and ebola are less likely to kill you than an enraged mime, the latter has managed to penetrate US borders. That alone has gotten the Fear from boiling over in ludicrous ways, from open racial hatred of West Africa to a lady in Newark refusing to leave her house without latex gloves and a surgical mask.


But how did it get to this point anyway? Isn't ebola one of those Third World diseases that thrives in the absence of modernism and sanitation? Indeed it is, and you can thank good ol' capitalism for bringing it to the US of A!

Specifically, you can thank both a for-profit healthcare system and career pols opposed to any sort of public spending. Like Rick Perry, Texas governor and responsible for a state healthcare budget ranked 33rd in the nation despite being number 1 in ebola cases. Not that you can blame Perry for all of it - tempting as it is - as he's just following the party line. The Bad Guys - and yes, the GOP are pretty much The Bad Guys from now on - have worked rigorously to break the grip of Big Health on the nation's budget. Mostly by cutting the CDC's emrgancy preparedness budget by half since 2006. In their defense, it's not like they expected any of those brown people diseases to cross the Atlantic because they've never heard of airplanes.

Meanwhile at the local level, administrators with no patient care experience decide on not just who gets the HAZMAT suits, but whether it's worth the time to actually sterilize medical equipment. This is also how Duncan, the only poor bastard to die of ebola in the US so far, got sent home by the ER despite showing symptoms. They've since insisted it just looked like a viral infection.

Much like how your local high school hired a confirmed pederast, this is just more of that highly decentralized decision making Confederates conservatives claim to love so much. It's why they want more small government like Perry's and why they slash all federal spending except the hyper-efficient and meritocratic defense budget. The free market will take care of things, like it took care of that uninsured Ron Paul staffer.

"But there's no alternative to capitalism!" says any given stupid person. Indeed, every American schoolkid knows socialism leads to such horrors as longer life-expectancy, shorter workdays, and the most reliable spacecraft ever made. Better to stick with this neofeudal disease pit.