Book Review: Beyond Redemption

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A genre-defining masterpiece of grimdark high fantasy. Imagine if the Shivering Isles were a novel written in the style of an old-school hard sci-fi heavy hitters like Frank Herbert or Dan Simmons. It’s like they tailor made it for me.

Belief defines reality, and the stronger your belief, the more insistent the manifestation. As a result, those grappling with severe mental illness become superhumans with monkey’s paw reconfigurations of their delusions pushing them toward godhood. The powers come with a price, and all the slapdash combinations of German words that essentially translate to “bugshit crazy wizard” are eventually consumed and destroyed by their reality-bending madness.

Until that point, these deranged solipsists lord over the “sane”, though it’s not sanity as much as a lack of the ill-defined (thus far) demiurgic prowess that lets their delusions to manifests, driven by the maladaptive need that is the source of their power. Slavers enrapture the minds of others, making them flesh puppets in the service of their unquenchable thirst to be loved. Dysmorphics are mutated by their own skewed perceptions into inhuman towers of muscle and sinew. The narcissistic “Greatest Swordsman in the World” cheats the system by sweet-talking everyone in the area into believing he’s better with the blade than he is, and riding that egregore burst to another victory in the ring, killing another vaunted local swordsman and strengthening his legend, and so, his power.

I don’t want to go into the plot itself because the book is too good for me to spoil it in a half-ass Goodreads review. Suffice it to say, all these kooks are trying to exploit the rules of the game for personal gain (as is invariably the case with the self-obsessed), with the end goal of homebrewing a perfect god. But even before you bring insanity into the mix, “perfect god” seems open to interpretation.

A great book. Almost the best book. I can’t wait to read the sequel.



View all my reviews

Budapest: Saints and Heroes, Rain and Ruin

November 29, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

It’s hard to look at the weirdly rounded mountains and omnipresent crumbling limestone deposits and not imagine that it’s all still underwater, especially at night. It’s hard to take a picture that neatly isolates what I’m talking about, but the overall impression is that Budapest was probably where the original Castlevania games were set.

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In one of the endlessly sprawling parks, I found this little summary of how Budapest happened. Buda is the mountainous side, Pest the one with all the buildings leaning backward for some reason. Around the corner was Philosophy Park, which didn’t feature any of my favorites but I was still honorbound to check out.

Can you name them? Probably not, because the artist took a hell of a lot of creative liberties. Let’s make it a matching game. Above we got Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus the Christ, St. Francis Assisi, and Bodhidharma. The dude skipping legs is Gandhi.

He was the easiest to guess. Also present was Abraham, groveling in the dirt, as is the typical requisite demand of his horrifying god.

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There was also allegedly a statue of Ankhenaten, alias Amenhotep IV, an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who died around 1334 BC. He was the one who dragged ancient Egypt toward monotheism through worship of Aten, a kind of catch-all solar superdeity.

I say allegedly because I defy you to look at this sculpture and tell me this isn’t a fuckin annunaki.

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annunakum?

Philosophy Park’s little plaque alleges that it was sculpted to pay homage to the great minds who increased understanding and compassion throughout the world and helped shape culture, but I’m pretty sure it was just dude’s hamfisted attempt to Leo da Vinci some Ancient Aliens lip service.

After that I headed up to Castle Hill proper and peeped the palace, the decorative statuary, and the associated vistas.

Further down through the Castle District is the Matthias Cathedral and Fisherman’s Bastion.

The cathedral is done up in a Gothic Revivalist style, which makes it look sort of like a Batman coloring book. Fisherman’s Bastion got its name from the fact that it was always manned by fishermen, who were rarely effective fighters, but did well enough that Buda Castle never fell in the middle ages.

They were charging admission to walk the 20 foot ramp to the top of Fisherman’s Bastion, then walk back down it again. I passed.

Across the bridge was Budapest’s oldest castle, Vajdahunyad Vara. It shared a lake with Heroes’ Square, which was a sort of Parthenon for Hungarian culture heroes like King Matthias and St. Stephen.

Among them is a bust of Bela Lugosi.

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This wasn’t an approved statue. There was an empty alcove on the castle’s exterior, so a German artist named Hartmut Zech took a trip to Budapest and he and his friends hid it there in the middle of the night.

Zech has done this kind of thing before. He made a bust of Jim Morrison and used a baby stroller to push it into the cemetery where Morrison is buried. That was removed before the week was out. But the Budapest authorities came to the castle, saw the bust, shrugged, and just kind of left it. So there it remains.

 

 

 

 

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i activated this hedge and learned double jump

Across the river from my hostel, in Gellért Hill, there’s a church in a cave. It once belonged to yet another local saint, St. Ivan, who used thermal water to heal the sick. The same pools he used now flow into the Gellért Thermal Baths, which I’m going to go check out and get healed by when I get around to it.

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It sure was a church in a cave. They gave me a headset for an audio tour. It was not optional.

I can’t stand audio tours. Just give me a plaque or a reference booklet. It’s like opening an article, then learning that it’s only a youtube video, so you immediately close the article. I can read exponentially faster than your voice actor can talk, I don’t care if they’re auctioneering. Let me learn shit on my own and get on with my life.

Not only was I subjected to an absolutely draaaaaagging audio presentation about what turned out to be a panoply of Roman Catholic wood carvings, it veered off into explaining chunks of Catholic dogma like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What’s unusual is, it wasn’t explaining it informatively. It was explaining it sort of like an affirmation, because it was clearly operating under the assumption that you wouldn’t be in this saint’s cave church unless you, yourself, were Catholic, and Jesus is our Lord, and the Sacred Heart represents our need not to just acknowledge Jesus’ actions but also his inner thoughts and motivations that led him to being such a fuckin’ bang-up messiah and all this other culty shit I learned in childhood and repressed.

For a reason!

There was a projector running upstairs. The movie showed slow-motion videos of happy children running while piano-led Hungarian covers of Imagine Dragons songs played in the background. Then it shifted to a cabal of priests, all decked out in clerical vestments, telling the appropriated Native American “two wolves live within us” story next to a waterfall.

Have you ever seen a clergyman in full finery hanging out on a hiking trail, let alone seven of them? It’s incredibly bizarre. There’s something viscerally wrong about seeing them all gussied up outside of a church, just prowlin’ around in the woods with God’s ballroom gown dragging behind them.

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For dinner, I opted to try the For Sale ruin pub. It’s covered in papers, and you can add to them if the spirit moves you.

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I got a menu from a waitress and sat at a table for five minutes, but no one came near me. This was just as well, since all the food was a minimum of 4000FT ($15), and the place was crawling with bugs. If you looked at a light, you could see dozens of little gnats and flies buzzing around like dust motes.

I left the menu and approached the bar, whereupon the bartender disappeared into the back room and never returned. I gave her a few minutes, then decided an overpriced lager full of spiders didn’t sound ideal and left.

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fuckin viennese

I eventually scavenged a porter and some Hungarian ratatouille at an underground hipster bar. I know it was a hipster bar because of the Transformers decals on the wall, and the waiter’s preposterous waxed mustache.

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The vegetables were a godsend. I’m a carnivorous dude, but I’m also fairly in tune with my flesh prison, and three days of nothing but sausage fat and fried potatoes leaves you feeling lethargic, ponderous, and sort of undead.

I’d been staving off scurvy with supermarket fruit juice, but even that proves to be a challenge when you’re functionally illiterate. I’ve been flagging down locals and saying, “Excuse me, this giant word next to 100%, is it ‘juice’?”

They think it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s very serious.

hohes

All right, I’ve written so much that WordPress’s shitty word processor is starting to arbitrarily reformat and delete what I’ve already put down, so that’s my cue. See you soon.

Love,

The Bastard

Vienna: Phallic Fixations

November 25, 2017. Vienna, Austria.

There’s really no missing the Pestsäule. The 60-foot baroque monstrosity juts up out of the center of the Graben like an ornate middle finger to God. It’s actually emperor Leopold I delivering on his side of one of those pleading prayer bargains we’ve all done. Leo’s was “Please, let the plague stop. I swear I’ll build you a really dope art phallus right in the middle of the city, just stop killing everyone.”

The Plague Column is also called the Trinity Column due to its three sides, each one presumably representing some aspect of the tripartite God.

About a block away is the Stock im Eisen, or staff in iron. That’s misleading, it’s not a staff, it’s a tree trunk full of nails, kept in a tube that makes it totally immune to photography.

I did what I could. Now, you might be asking, “Why is there a protected chunk of tree, full of nails, on a street corner in Vienna?” Good question. I’d love to answer it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone can. Every website has a different interpretation of the Stock im Eisen‘s history, and the locals who were attempting to explain its significance to their visiting friends were telling conflicting stories.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together. In the Middle Ages, nail trees (Nagelbäume) were used by craftsmen, or anyone else with nails, for good luck. This particular nail tree had something to do with the Devil. There’s a ballet about it by Pasquale Borri, so if anyone more sophisticated than me can check that out and report back, I’d appreciate it.

There was a locksmith who wanted to marry his master’s daughter, or maybe he just wanted to be the greatest locksmith who ever lived. Dude shot for the stars. So he calls Mephistopheles out of Prague, who shows up on a FlixBus a few hours later. The locksmith sells his soul in exchange for just a really, fuckin’, top-notch padlock. It’s amazing. He puts that on the tree and issues challenges to either his master in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage, or to all the locksmiths of the world in exchange for World Locksmithing Supremacy. Since the Devil made the lock, nobody could crack it, and he lived happily ever after until he burnt in Hell. The tree remains with a lock on it to this day, and also full of nails, for some reason.

This is confirmed bullshit. They looked into the padlock and it’s empty, there’s no tumblers or anything in there. It would pop right open. Maybe that’s why the whole thing’s behind the bulletproof glass.

Well, that was most of center city, barring museums and palaces. I sidled all the way across town to the Freud Museum.

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they only serve sausages

I thought it was interesting, but Freud was what got me through college. I’d read the bulk of his debunked wackadoo theories long before I got “higher educated”, and since every class in undergrad wanted to beat both Freudian and Pavlovian dead horses as much as possible, I got to recycle the same paper, with subtle stylistic changes, something like ten times.

My favorite, bar none, was a History and Systems project where we were required to adopt the persona of our chosen theorist and have an open debate with the rest of the class. We got extra credit for accents, props, and convincing portrayal. I shaved my scruff into an approximation of his beard and showed up to class with a grape White Owl in my mouth and a baggie full of flour smeared around my nose. The only Austrian accent I’d ever heard at that point was the Terminator’s, so that was how Freud talked. I sat next to B.F. Skinner, as portrayed by a gorgeous little ghoul with dichromatic eyes, and we became a vitriolic tempest of condescending reductionism, laying waste to anyone fool enough to have chosen a humanistic or positive psychologist. The Carl Rogers surrogate got the worst flaying. I think he might still be institutionalized.

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speaking of my college

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hoo i heard that

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Siggy’s personal necromancy cabinet. easily puts mine to shame, but the museum did keep repeating that his three great passions were “traveling, smoking, and collecting”

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I laughed so hard and so inappropriately at that adorable picture of Carl Jung. Look at him go! With his little hat, and his little disapproving frown!

I love Jung, I think his work is interesting, if convoluted, arcanist rambling, but I wasn’t prepared for this. From here on out, I’m never gonna be able to think of Freud and Jung as anything but Germanic Rick and Morty.

On my way back to the hostel, I located the only grocery store in Vienna (I’d been looking) and picked up a box of juice brand named “Munter und Aktiv”. Well, I got half of that. I asked Google Translate and it said Munter means “blithely”. I recognized this as impossible. I activated my German field agent and she told me it’s a mixture between happy and awake and active. Well, we already have active. I asked the lady at the hostel desk, planning on averaging all these translations into one definitive Munter.

“It is like waking up with coffee in the morning,” she said. “Like chipper.”

“All right, thank you.”

She asked me if I still had my key card. I said I did.

“Good work,” she told me. She seemed serious, but she may have just been possessed of the Wiener Grant.

“Do people lose them a lot? Is that a big problem here?” I asked, blithely. Munterly.

“No, no problem. We don’t have problems here,” she said, then she honest to God slapped the table and shouted in the thickest, most Germanic accent I’ve ever heard, “VE HAVE ZOLUTIONS!”

She laughed after and clarified that she was just kidding, but I was deer-in-the-headlights frozen. One of those disbelieving grins, you know? When what’s going on… can’t be what’s actually going on.

I know we have a sad little Nazi party movement in America, but realistically that’s like 40 lonely dudes with bad haircuts who get way too much media coverage. In much of Europe, they seem mighty sorry for World War II. The Mahnmal in the heart of Vienna is a good indicator, but there’s more going on than monuments, culturally. The aforementioned German girl is currently crossing eastern Europe and self-inflicting a sort of guilt tour (or Schuldtour). Warsaw and Auschwitz, that I’m aware of. Die Madchen ist haunted.

(As a quick aside, I looked up the German word for ‘haunted’, and, unbelievably, it is spukt. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Spukt. This fuckin’ language, man.)

In the Athens flea market, after divulging her nationality to an antique dealer for reasons I will never understand, he rolled out a bunch of old Nazi medals.

“You want?”

She literally backpedaled, shielding her face like a tall, rigid vampire from an iron cross. But she went on to tell me that there are people back in Germany — in America, we’d call them hicks — that love that kind of thing.

The modern nationalism necessary to breed either sentiment is lost on me, but I don’t think that’s because I’m an American. I’m just not much of a joiner.

A final, weird note, and the last Hitler point I plan on making: the Indian guy told me that Hitler is sort of fondly remembered in India and China. In the course of the war, Germany did a lot of damage to Great Britain, and India is still carrying a pretty understandable grudge against their former imperial taskmasters.

I sat down and collected myself until my chronic and intractable antsiness returned, then I figured I’d go check out the craft beer bar half a mile away. I hadn’t eaten in six or seven hours, so that seemed like the ideal time. They had a Bier dem Wochen flight for the cost of a regular half-pint, so I got that. They brought me 4 beers, all from Anchor Brewing, which I learned from a hipster’s t-shirt is in San Francisco.

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welp

The Steam beer must be called that because that’s what it tasted like. The stout was palatable, in a cream soda kind of way. I downed it and ordered a local imperial stout called Der Schnittenfahrt from a company called Brauwork. Hilarious though that may sound, it means “cut drive”, and washing down a flight with it on an empty stomach was perhaps ill advised.

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“schnittenfahrt” tho

The bar was very excited about rugby. Ireland vs Argentina. I didn’t know who they were rooting for, but they were rooting for them with all their heart. I went to the bathroom and laughed so hard I scared a dude.

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now that’s opulence

That was enough for one night. I had a bus to catch the next morning. I stumbled back to my hostel and passed out. I slept like a rock, except for at around 3 AM when I was awake just long enough to see the dude in the opposing bunk sit up like a mummy, slam his face into the wood support of the bunk over him, and release a long, low-pitched, closed-mouthed moan. It was sort of like a cow mooing, but in slow motion. Absolutely fantastic.

The next morning I threw all my stuff into my bag and wrote in the kitchen until my Brazilian DJ friend rejoined me, looking much worse for wear.

“Bunch of bastards,” he told me out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

“The club I played at,” he spat. “Didn’t pay me a DIME. Bastards. Didn’t even give me free drinks. I had four beers, and they charged me.”

I shook my head. “Animals. Well, chalk it up to experience, I guess.”

He made a vague allusion to being all about peace and love. I shook his hand, wished him well, and headed for the door.

Oh, right. The bus was to Bratislava, and hoo boy, do I got some stories for tomorrow.

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heard yo mama in the movies

Love,

The Bastard

Vatican City: Narrative Conflict: Man vs God

November 6, 2017. Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

Christendom loomed ahead, sacred and caked with bird shit. The sacrosanct vendors on the street waved selfie-sticks at me in perfect beatitude. My shins hurt, but that’s an important aspect of pilgrimage.

I’m a reformed Catholic. I ran the catechism gauntlet right on up to first holy communion, where I ate the blessed cardboard Necco of Christ and sat in a closet where I told a priest everything bad that a 12-year-old did. Although, even at the time, I remember not telling him about the masturbation. Older now, and wiser, I realize it was for the best. Statistically safest to keep that manner of imagery out of that population’s mind. After I stammered something about “uhh I lied and did other bad things”, the priest said “All right, 3 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers”, to which I responded “You too!” and left. Turns out, in order to get that good absolution, you needed to recite the aforementioned prayers.

You know Locke’s concept of tabula rasa? I’m the opposite of that. I was never forgiven. I’m dragging every sin since day one, including the original one which I really had nothing to do with. That’s probably why my skin started to crackle and smolder when I set foot in Vatican City proper, but that was only the first of several tricks that perfidious scumbag Yahweh had up his sparkling omniscent sleeve.

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bird finna poop on an angel

You know the Sistine Chapel? I know you know it, because it’s the most famous church in the world. That’s the reason I went into the Vatican. I’m past redemption, I just want to see what Michelangelo did to the roof of the most famous extant church.

As an aside, Michelangelo is my second favorite Renaissance painter as well as my second favorite Renaissance ninja turtle. Leonardo is my first of both. Raphael comes in third, and I think we can all agree Donatello can be done without.

I digress. Remember the ultimate church, in God City, Italy?

Closed on Sundays.

Take all the time you need with that.

“Fuck you, buddy,” I hissed skyward, as I have many times before and no doubt will again. “I didn’t come here for nothing. I’ll see the museum. See some of the indulgences or whatever.”

“Museum’s closed too,” God said in a voice like thunder. “Eat a dick, bro.”

I believe I articulated something to the affect of “graaaAAAAAAAHHH” then pointed at the sky and bellowed, “Fine! Then I’ll wait in line for your lame-ass basilica! See if I don’t!”

It was at that point the sky parted and it rained for forty days and forty nights, directly on me while I stood in line to get into the 2nd runner up consolation site. All the good Christians looked at me from under their umbrellas. None offered, which was good. I wouldn’t have accepted. At least it stopped my skin from emitting black, sulfurous smoke.

“My friend!” a grifter said. “Rain slicker! Oombrella! Five euro!”

“Never!” I said, thrusting a sodden finger at him. “This is between me and God!”

“What?” he said, fairly.

“He’s gonna break before I do!”

I don’t need to describe his expression of discomfort as he sidled away, it’s already in your head.

God stopped the line, of course. As soon as I got into line, it stopped moving, because that was the only way He could get me to stand in the rain. Driven by pride. For is it not written in Proverbs that “Pride goeth before torrential rainfall”?

It is. And it did. Once I was soaked to the bone and convulsing in the first cold weather I’d experienced in the Mediterranean, I pointed to the sky, shouted “THIS ISN’T OVER YOU FUCK” and retreated into the comforting arms of science in the form of the Da Vinci Museum Experience.

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pic marginally related

Turns out, Leonardo da Vinci built a whole bunch of stuff out of wood. Who knew? The nice Roman mom let me wring out my shirt in the bathroom and blow-dry my hair on the hand dryer, deeply amused by what I’m sure she internally termed as however the hell you say “my shenanigans” in Italian. She even gave me a discount on entry to the museum because I was so soggy and charming.

Once that was squared away, the storm had broken, I presume because God is a coward at the end of his power. I returned to the basilica. No line now. Why would there need to be? There’s no rain for me to stand in. I walked into the big ol’ church, though not the big ol’ church I wanted to go into, because it’s closed on Sundays.

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it was a big ol’ church all right

 

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pretty sure this was God, dipping thru to taunt me

 

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some sort of sacred butthole, I guess. also pictured: a dude who definitely watched the Ring video

I asked if I could sit in a pew and pray. The guy looked puzzled and offered to let me sit in on mass, but I told him my best mass days are behind me, and I was hoping for a more private conversation. He waved me through because, realistically, they don’t pay him enough to deal with me.

I sat in the chair, folded my hands, and really let that big bastard have it. The kind of stuff that would guarantee we’d have to fight at the flagpole after school. I even threw in a “Richard Dawkins rules”, even though everyone knows that’s not true.

My peace said, I squelched out of the Vatican, pausing to be judgmental of statuary on the way out.

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see, this is why we shouldn’t have let them get away from the Greco-Roman style of sculpture. you think tits look like that? they don’t. you obviously just sculpted a dude and stuck vaguely spherical chunks of rock onto his chest. and like, not even where they go. did Picasso sculpt this?

I got back to the hostel quicker than I expected and grabbed a nap. My dreams were eldritch, and I woke up with images of a glowing underwater cave where siren voices warped in the water, somewhere between ecstatic and terrifying. It turned out that’s because a pair of Brazilian girls were in the common room playing acoustics and wailing. I went down and sat next to the wise old buck who told me to slow down. The proprietor handed me a guitar, and for the rest of the night he, the girls, and I drank $1 boxed wine and played acoustic covers of grunge songs while old Herb tapped his foot and occasionally said, “I don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, but I like this.”

Love,

The Bastard