Another Challenge for the Green Hornet!

green hornet and katoThe Green Hornet TV show from 1966 is the best live action superhero TV show ever made. Every time I say this the response I get is “the radio show is better.” Yes, the radio show is better, but I’m not talking about radio shows. I’m talking about TV. (Also The Green Hornet is not my favorite radio show so…)

You wouldn’t think that a show made by the same people who did the 60s Batman would be anything but campy or inane, but with The Green Hornet, they played it straight. There’s no nonsense about humming to break glass or our hero dancing like an idiot. (Don’t get me wrong I love 60s Batman. Except the Batusi. The Batusi is a crime against humanity.) This show killed people off right and left and our hero pretended to be a villain just as he ought. The Green Hornet (Van Williams) had sweet gadgets, an awesome car, and Bruce Lee as a side kick.

Kato as portrayed by Bruce LeeThere is a complaint that this show started a trend in subsequent Green Hornet adaptations with Kato being the more prominent character. Never having read any of the comics, I cannot comment.  It’s regrettable if that’s the case but it doesn’t stop this show from being awesome. (Incidentally, I have little memory of Kato doing anything in the radio show.) Let’s face it: Bruce Lee is awesome and as such there is a tendency for people to get stars in their eyes and see him and not Van Williams.

But Van Williams is a darn good Hornet, and if you don’t spend all your time staring at Lee, you might notice him being pretty cool. While Kato might come in to rescue him, that’s sometimes part of the plan and frequently unnecessary. The Hornet is clever and he’s quite capable of taking care of himself.

Alas, it was not to last. The show was canceled after only one season.

The Green Hornet has never been released but you can (currently) find all the episodes on Youtube.

Negotium Perambulans

The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have noticed, as he bowled along over the bare high plateau between Penzance and the Land’s End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a steep lane and bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription “Polearn 2 miles,” but probably very few have had the curiosity to traverse those two miles in order to see a place to which their guide-books award so cursory a notice. It is described there, in a couple of unattractive lines, as a small fishing village with a church of no particular interest except for certain carved and painted wooden panels (originally belonging to an earlier edifice) which form an altar-rail. But the church at St. Creed (the tourist is reminded) has a similar decoration far superior in point of preservation and interest, and thus even the ecclesiastically disposed are not lured to Polearn.

E. F. Benson’s “Negotium Perambulans” tells a bit of a fire and brimstone story. God doesn’t like people bringing corruption and sin to a particular little town. He seems especially peeved with people who drink too much or use altars as tables.

The wood panels in the church serve as a hint and warning to the horrible fate that awaits a few such sinners:

There was the angel of the Annunciation there, and the angel of the Resurrection, but not less was there the witch of Endor, and, on the fourth panel, a scene that concerned me most of all.

This fourth panel … represented the lych-gate of the church-yard at Polearn itself, and indeed the resemblance when thus pointed out was remarkable. In the entry stood the figure of a robed priest holding up a Cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug, that reared itself up in front of him

It’s not just a slug. It’s blood sucking demon slug. How could you possibly go wrong with that? Benson certainly does not. Not only does this creature creep up and get its victims in the dark but somehow they know that it’s coming. They know and they spend their last weeks or months in terror, attempting to fill their house with light to keep it away.

There’s interesting shades of “Pickman’s Model” in the descriptions of one character’s paintings:

He was justified in his own estimate of his skill: he could paint (and apparently he could paint anything), but never have I seen pictures so inexplicably hellish. There were exquisite studies of trees, and you knew that something lurked in the flickering shadows. There was a drawing of his cat sunning itself in the window, even as I had just now seen it, and yet it was no cat but some beast of awful malignity. There was a boy stretched naked on the sands, not human, but some evil thing which had come out of the sea. Above all there were pictures of his garden overgrown and jungle-like, and you knew that in the bushes were presences ready to spring out on you…

Where with Pickman we’re left to wonder what exactly got him (unless you’ve read Dream Quest), in this story the painter has been set in the sights of a vengeful demon slug and there’s no escaping.

The one real flaw is that its not particularly clear why various people get slugged (except for the one guy who smashed up the church).  They’re implied to be bad people and possibly blasphemous but the descriptions of these men isn’t such that one gets the idea that divine retribution is necessary in order to protect the town.  It’s a small flaw, however.

Why So Hemingway?

I keep seeing recommendations for the Hemingway app or editor or whatever it’s called.  A site that allows you to paste in your work and then it highlights sentences which are “hard to read” or “very hard to read”, adverbs, passive voice, and words that are “complex”.

So I’ve got to ask: is this sentence hard to read?

I went into the darkened smoking-room where the rays of morning light were beginning to creep through the shutters.

And is this sentence very hard to read?

He wrote out for me a ticket to Newton-Stewart, a name which had suddenly come back to my memory, and he conducted me from the first-class compartment where I had ensconced myself to a third-class smoker, occupied by a sailor and a stout woman with a child.

Then my last question: why is Hemingway still in fashion?

Because that’s what this kind of writing advice is really all about: fashion.  It used to be okay to use words like “however” and “overall” and no one thought they were “complex” whatever that means.  It used to be okay to have longer sentences with clauses in them.  The works that people have held up as “good” writing change with the age.

I stuck one of my stories into it just for the lols and got a grade 3.  (If you put Hemingway in there it’s a 0.  The two example sentences are from The Thirty-Nine Steps which got a 5 for the first two chapters.)  I can see this app being useful if like me you have a problem with over using a word like “just” and here it is highlighted so you can delete half of them.

Because I had to, I stuck a Lovecraft story in there.  “Pickman’s Model.”  Grade 10.  Since I’ve read about a dozen stories from Lovecraft’s essay, I couldn’t very well stop there.  Some of the others:

Negotium Perambulans: 9
The Shadows on the Wall: 4
The Death of Halpin Frayser: 10
The Green Wildebeest: 8
Mrs. Lunt: 8
Fishhead: 13

Oh, that last one.  Worse than Lovecraft!  Mr. Cobb was indeed talented.  Obviously I haven’t written anything on the stories listed here (they’re coming) but I’ll give you a small spoiler: there’s some heavy competition but “Fishhead” has yet to be unseated as my favorite.  I had no problem reading the 81 sentences in “Fishhead” which the Hemingway editor flagged as “hard” or “very hard” to read.

I like these old stories.  I like this style of story.  But as they say, there’s no accounting for taste.

Fishhead

“Fishhead” by Irvin S Cobb is a wonderful, creepy, simple little story. Lovecraft describes is as “banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake.”

Reelfoot Lake was formed by an earthquake in 1811. Cobb paints an eerie picture of its murky waters and mysterious depths:

In places it is bottomless. Other places the skeletons of the cypress trees that went down when the earth sank still stand upright, so that if the sun shines from the right quarter and the water is less muddy than common, a man peering face downward into its depths sees, or thinks he sees, down below him the bare top-limbs upstretching like drowned men’s fingers, all coated with the mud of years and bandaged with pennons of the green lake slime.

All kinds of fish live among the dead underwater forest. “Bass and crappie and perch and the snouted buffalo fish.” Alligator gar (one of the largest kinds of freshwater fish in North America). But in Cobb’s version of Reelfoot, the largest fish are the catfish.

These are monstrous creatures, these catfish of Reelfoot—scaleless, slick things, with corpsy, dead eyes and poisonous fins like javelins and long whiskers dangling from the sides of their cavernous heads.

The title character, Fishhead, is deformed half-breed who lives on the lake’s shore. Rumors say he has some connection to the creepy catfish and most people avoid him. A pair of white trash brothers get into a scrap with Fishhead and, embarrassed by the thrashing he gives them, decide to get their revenge.

Fishhead gets a revenge of his own. Oh, it is very well done but not the sort of thing that one can talk about without spoiling it. You’ll just have to read it.

On Gutenberg

The Yellow Wallpaper

I never saw a worse paper in my life.

One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

I had noticed “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman some years before on Gutenberg but then saw that it was considered “feminist” literature and gave it a pass. But Lovecraft praised it so it’s time to give it a look.

“Feminist”, for all the stuff on Wikipedia about the story smashing the patriarchy/gobbledegook, is somewhat misleading. This is nascent feminism. Before feminism had metastasized into the rot it is today or even the rot it was in the mid-20th century.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was published in 1892. It tells, in first person, a woman’s descent into madness. She has been diagnosed with “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency.” Her husband, a doctor, has prescribed that she have a complete rest and is not supposed to anything, even writing. They rent a house for the summer and use as their room an old nursery.

This nursery is not in very good repair and the yellow wallpaper is peeling off. The narrator is immediately fixated by the wallpaper and its strange design. She begins to see things in it and then things outside of it, claiming there is a woman “creeping” around both outdoors and behind the wallpaper.

Gilman had a similar diagnosis and was told to sit around doing nothing, which she did until she felt that she was about to have a mental breakdown. She went back to work and recovered. The feminist slant is that back then women were treated poorly because of stupid treatments like this, blah blah blah.

(It’s not like the medical profession is still coming up with stupid, BS diagnonses when they don’t know what to do about something. Oh, no. That would never happen. Let’s face it. The medical profession has always had a tendency to latch onto wrongheaded treatments while acting like they know better than anyone else. [Leeches, ‘nuff said.] This is a “women’s” issue only insofar as this particular idiotic treatment affected women.  I’d love to still some information about stupid things doctors were telling men to do back then.)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” has enough details in it, however, to make a reader wonder if the simple explanation of “she didn’t have enough mental stimulation so went nuts” is all there is to it. The husband, while incorrect in his treatment of his wife, seems nice enough so one has to question his sanity in insisting on using a room which is described as having the paper ripped half off and:

Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.

The descriptions leave one with a strong impression that there is something wrong with the room. Maybe it’s simply an increasingly mad woman’s notions. She insists that there’s something strange about the house from the beginning. Maybe there’s something more to it.

The one thing I do not like about the story is the paragraphs. Practically every sentence is its own paragraph. The result is very choppy. It might be different if the style had changed as the character goes insane but it doesn’t. But that’s a very minor detail and I doubt other people will be bothered by it.

Feminist or not it’s a pretty good story.

On Gutenberg

Lovecraft’s “Literature”

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Naturally we cannot expect all weird tales to conform absolutely to any theoretical model. Creative minds are uneven, and the best of fabrics have their dull spots. Moreover, much of the choicest weird work is unconscious; appearing in memorable fragments scattered through material whose massed effect may be of a very different cast. Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say, as a general thing, that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfil every condition of true supernatural horror-literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point. If the proper sensations are excited, such a “high spot” must be admitted on its own merits as weird literature, no matter how prosaically it is later dragged down. The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.

I don’t know how I missed reading Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” as long as I did.  It is both a history of horror and “weird” fiction and an extensive list of work that Lovecraft considered influential or particularly good.

There’s dozens of author names here that I’ve never heard of and a couple that I was surprised to see included among the ranks of weird fiction. But as Lovecraft says:

[Literature of cosmic fear] has always existed, and always will exist; and no better evidence of its tenacious vigour can be cited than the impulse which now and then drives writers of totally opposite leanings to try their hands at it in isolated tales, as if to discharge from their minds certain phantasmal shapes which would otherwise haunt them.

I’ve got the notion into my head to read a bunch of these stories and maybe write something about them. I won’t do this is any particular order and there’s no way I could do all of them even if they were available and undoubtable I shall lose interest after a couple stories but we’ll see.

Dumb People Need Not Buy

From a review of Obduction on GOG:

I’ve played several hours so far and I’ve progressed through several puzzles. Would I say it’s easier? So far, yes. That being said, though, there’s nothing obtuse like needing to know to click on a picture on a wall ala Myst Library. The puzzles are beautifully integrated and subtly hinted at.

Ah hahaha… NO.

A house on an alien planet

My computer is not capable of graphics this good

Now either this person hasn’t got as far as I have (doubtful) or he has a brain that functions very differently.  Obduction is a beautiful game made by the same people who did Myst and is very much like Myst indeed.  Only I don’t remember Myst being so freaking unintuitive.

 

You begin by being abducted by a space strawberry which transports you to an empty alien world.  Well, not entirely empty.  There’s weird chunks of earth scattered around– a house, a piece of a train station.  Strange, stacticky holograms to tell you little bits of information.

All the doors you find are locked.  Which is the first place the game design irked me.  If you lock a house, do not design it to look like all the windows are cracked open.  If the windows are cracked open, why can’t I just push the rest of the way open and climb in?  Of course you can’t do something like that.  Nor can you jump or fall off of anything.  It’s nice not to worry about falling to your death but when the drop off looks to be a mere foot or two, it’s somewhat annoying to have to walk all the way around to the ramp.

Nothing obtuse, huh?  First off there’s a door with a button.  I pushed this and nothing happened.  After a while of not being able to figure out what to do or go or anything, I came back and pushed the button half a dozen times just for the heck of it.  Then, because nothing happened, I walked away.  THEN something happened.  A voice.  Turn around and there’s a guy in the door mumbling at you.  I missed half of it.  I don’t know if CW only comes when you push the button a bunch of times or he just takes freaking forever.  If the latter, then I missed the first time he came.  How should the player know to either wait or keep pushing the button til something happens?

Then we come to another design problem.  If you don’t stand at exactly the right distance from an object, the cursor will not show that it can be interacted with nor will it allow you to do so.  I couldn’t figure out how to get the gate into the generator area open because apparently I was standing too close to that propeller looking doohickey and thus couldn’t change its position.

Getting into Farley’s house is a touch on the obtuse side.  The door code is easy.  Finding the door not so much.  But really that’s not too bad.  You just have to do to the other side of the map and plug the code into a door which looks like it has nothing to do with Farley’s house.  Inside Farley’s house, however, is much worse.  There’s a slide projector and some boards, one of which as a thing you pull down which has the number 15 on it.  I never in a million years would have noticed that were it not for having gotten so frustrated that I had a walkthrough open at that point.  Were it not for the walkthrough, I would not have know that you’re supposed to project some dots on it.  Well, I might have figured that out but I wouldn’t have figured out how to line it up right because when I tried to do it didn’t come out the way the walkthrough picture showed.  It took six tries to get it lined up that way.

Ah, but then comes what that gets used for.  This thing:

Death trap of math

There’s a piece of paper with “instructions” which I couldn’t read.  (That’s an odd thing too: I could read it better if I took a picture of it but just picking it up and looking at it the words are too small and blurry.  I assume this is a graphics problem as the screenshots GOG provides look very different than what I see while playing.)  It’s a math “puzzle.”  Or maybe I should say a screaming nightmare of impossibility for those of us who can’t math.

I’m dyslexic.  I have strenuously avoided anything math since managing to squeak by with “Math for Liberal Arts” in college.  If I’d ever heard of base four, I’d forgotten what it was.  If you’re one of those people who says things like “anybody can learn to do math”, I hope someone punches you in the face because it’s not true.  Some of us are math retards.

I remember Myst being hard.  I remember it being frustrating.  I do not remember having absolutely no idea what to do next or getting the notion that I would never in a million years be able to do what it was asking me to do (maybe briefly in the clock tower).  You get dumped into the world with no explanation.  Same with Obduction.  There’s mysterious recorded messages that make very little sense.  Same with Obduction.  But in Myst certain things are very clear.  You’ve got four books about four worlds to get to and solve.  You have a bunch of clues on how to do this.  It’s not easy, sure.

In Obduction so far, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next.  There’s no clear goal.  There’s nothing like a sunken boat that needs to be raised or a spaceship that needs to be opened.  There’s an evil math problem and I don’t even know what it does.

I think I’m going to go back and play Myst again.