Archive for August, 2011

Old Poems

August 25, 2011

I’ve always written poetry in notebooks. I still do. On the one hand, I love the tactile sensations of it. It feels like something that should be literally placed upon the page, word by word, though I wonder if a touchscreen and a stylus would be sufficient. On the other hand, if I want to do anything with it (like send it off to be published), I have to go back and transcribe all of it into a .doc file.

This is a pain in the ass.

Also, it has forced me to re-read some journals that I started over a decade ago, and I get to see how thoroughly shitty all of what I was writing actually was. I was hoping to mine these old poems for something useful, something that could be hacked and carved into something that would border on decent and publishable, but there’s just nothing there. At least in the notebook I’ve been combing today. It got so miserable that I just flipped to the back of the notebook, and decided to work my way back in time until I come to the point where I see my writing was too puerile and cliche ridden to be worth anything.

So, that’s been the revelation of my late afternoon. My early writing is thoroughly unusable crap. Oh well. At least it still exists as some sort of artistic archaeological artifact. When looking back, I don’t have to worry about gaps in the evolutionary chart. Everything is there. I saved every creature I have birthed, regardless of how malformed and ill-suited it may have been in its creation. At least I write better now. I hope.

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The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson – review

August 14, 2011

I think the best place to start this is by mentioning a book called On Writing Horror, a book put out by the Horror Writers Association. Horror novels were the first thing that really got me interested in reading, at least after it was drummed out of me by a lot of tedious reading groups foisted upon me by my elementary school. And seeing this on the shelf at the library peaked my interest, so I grabbed it and browsed through it. By and large, it’s not a bad book, but the best part about it isn’t necessarily the advice on writing, but the advice on other books to read or websites to visit. One of the books was The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson, originally published in 1909.

The first thing that struck me was the cover:

This isn’t an image of my copy, but an image I pulled off of Biblio, and if you click the picture it’ll take you to Biblio, if you’re curious. Notice, though, what it says around the little picture of the naked spaceman (there’s got to be a sexual fetish thing going on there at some level): “Classics of Science Fiction.” Now, this story is about pretty much what the title says. But Hyperion still lumped in under sci-fi. It’s probably nothing, but I sort of like that a title such as this got published as a sci-fi novel at some point, especially with the current popularity of shows like Ghost Hunters that attempt to bring a scientific angle to the paranormal. Normally, if there are ghost involved it is horror, and I got this title from a book compiled by the Horror Writers Association, but I like how it is also proof of the comingling the genres, of how they have overlapped over the years and bleed into each other.

Now, for the book itself, it’s an entertaining read of the sort you don’t see much of any more, at least from my experience. It isn’t gory. It doesn’t go into great detail about how someone dies, what it looks like, the ruptures of flesh and sinew or whatever else. The details are, by and large, left up to the reader, and it builds an atmosphere because of it that, again, I don’t find as often any more. And it does this so effectively that it’s really easy to overlook some of the basic mehness of the plot. I mean, it’s about ghost pirates. If you’ve seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you will have a pretty good idea of what goes on here. But it still works because Hodgson doesn’t get bogged down.  People die, but we hear their screams and then we have their bodies. We don’t hear about every gory detail and we don’t need it. What we fill in is effectively worse than whatever Hodgson could likely give us anyway, and it keeps the story moving.

The one drawback of the novel is that Hodgson seems to be going for a salty sea dialect, but it comes off as somewhat hokey at times. By and large, you just go over it and you quit noticing it or caring after the first twenty pages or so. but there are times where the spellings become so off-kilter in an attempt to provide local color, that you aren’t sure what’s being said until you re-read a passage a few times. To Hodgson’s credit, he remains very consistent with each character’s speech, but it still shouldn’t take me as long as it did to realize that when a character said piy-diy, it meant “pay-day.”

On the sci-fi angle, it’s clear how it can be moved into that genre with relative ease. What plagues the ship and crew is only occasionally called “ghosts” or “spirits.” They’re also called “shadows” and the theories the main character comes up with do bridge more to sci-fi than horror with seems to be a fair idea of different dimensions and alternative worlds rather than an afterlife. It goes so far as the main character even talking of the shadows of possibly being “flesh and blood,” just not flesh and blood as we know it.  So it’s not entirely just a ghost story, but Hodgson weaves in a good deal of ambiguity about what is happening to leave open a good deal of possibilities.