Book Review: The Grim Company

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


What do you get when you cross an aging Northern barbarian trying his best to become a better man, a narcissistic youth with incredible hand-to-hand combat skill convinced of his own importance by a Truman Show caliber lifetime of lies spun by meddling wizards, and a treasonous, jeering cripple with connections to upper government in a crapsack medieval dystopia where a cabal of immortal wizards are perpetually warring for control of the realm?

The First Law, by Joe Abercrombie.

What do you get if you took exactly that, leeched it of all charm and believable dialogue, and cranked the rape dial up to 11?

Ah, now we get to the Grim Company.

I gave it two stars because the writing was sufficiently skillful that I finished the book, but Joe Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors. Even bland First Law fanfiction holds my interest, apparently.

Salazar, obviously, is Bayaz, though more openly fascist. Cole is Jezal, but with constant ridiculous Three Stooges sound effects playing whenever he falls into pig shit or steps on a rake, which is constantly and tactlessly. The barbarian whose name was almost Cole, I don’t remember it, Cohn or something, he was the Dogman, but if the Dogman were Logen instead. The personality was stolen from the Dogman and pasted into Logen’s backstory.

The barbarian’s friend, “The Wolf”, that was Sandor Clegane, the Hound. Woop, left field! Yeah, he’s foul-mouthed, perpetually snarling at everyone around him, miserable, even down to the point where he was covered in burns. It’s that opaque. He was also closet-gay coded and in love with the Dogman character; this was evinced by his being the only character in the rapey grimdark fantasy novel to ever drop the f-slur.

Now, interestingly enough, the Fenris the Feared character, the unstoppable giant in the magic armor, he was swapped out for Gregor Clegane, so he could threaten rape more frequently. This character gouges out the eyes of someone who almost defeats him, just like in that episode of Game of Thrones. He is eventually defeated by the Hound character, also just like in Game of Thrones, though they are not siblings so it doesn’t make for much of a payoff in this. Not that Cleganebowl did in Game of Thrones, either, but that’s another rant for a harsher review that GRRM will get if he ever writes again.

What other baldfaced plagiarism sticks out, let’s see. Oh! The callow manservant/apprentice who travels with the party and hides a dark, sinister secret, the suggestion that he is something more than human and everyone can kind of tell but no one is certain until the big reveal? That’s Malacus Quai. He’s called Isaac in this one, and he’s an alien instead of an Eater. Great.

I’m not sure who Sasha was ripped off from, probably Ardee West, but she didn’t have much of a personality to speak of anyway. She mostly existed to give Cole something to pine after (almost characterization), and to keep the lingering threat of a rape scene constant throughout the book.

Charmless. Gormless. Shameless. And not the good kind of the shameless, where you push the envelope and inspire others to try new things. The kind where you keep stilting situations so your most annoying protagonist gets cock-and-ball-tortured by beautiful women. “Ah, no, mistress, please stop.”

I wouldn’t be this cruel if it weren’t for the dialogue, but holy shit, it’s like he’s never heard a human being talk before. You know what it is? Anime. The dialogue is written like anime. The one character calls the other a bitch or something like that, and she responds with verbatim, “Thanks for the compliment”. I remember the episode of Pokemon where Misty said that, dude. You can just have them say “thanks”. The ‘for the compliment’ part is implied.

I talked myself out of two stars, working my way through this review. One star. It was bad. It was a pale and insulting imitation of one of the greatest fantasy works of our time. I know what Picasso said about good artists borrowing and great artists stealing, but he never really clarified what bad artists do. This, I guess.



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Book Review: The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The dude who wrote Bagger Vance writes an immensely powerful and relatable bit of feel-good motivational speaking wherein he names our mutual demon. He calls it Resistance, and its sole purpose to keeping you from doing “your work”, the Aristotlean virtue you were put on this planet to do.

Resistance is highly seductive. It knows your work is hard. It knows things like “research” and “editing” are not your work, but peripheral to it, and thus, easy bait-and-switches. Resistance loves when you procrastinate. It wants you to clean the house, go to the gym, dick around on social media, because none of those things are your work and it hates you and doesn’t want you to do your work, by any means necessary.

Resistance is soma from Brave New World. It’s comfortable and widely available and it lets you not care about the thing you’re supposed to be doing. But you know you’re supposed to be doing it. It’s your work. Otherwise, you’re just taking up space, and you’re going to get depressed, and Resistance will gloat over all the time it managed to get you to sacrifice to it.

Resistance isn’t an abstract. It’s an actual physical demon, something actively possessing you, keeping you from finishing your book or painting or whatever you do, and it must be exorcised as such.

Pressfield says the key is deliberate daily practice. We’re all rarring to go when we get hit by the inspiration, and we bemoan its erratic schedule. We want to be inspired, but we want it on our schedule. Pressfield says that’s greedy because it’s not us doing the writing, it’s inspiration. We’re a channel for it. Whether you believe in metaphysics or not, we don’t know where thoughts come from; we don’t decide to think and then think. Thinking just happens, in whatever order it wants to, and the subconscious that it bubbles up from is as foreign and indistinct and mystical as God or the muses or the cosmos or whatever else you wanna call it.

Solution is simple: open the landing site for inspiration at the same time every day, and it’ll come by more frequently. Force yourself to write each morning. Eventually, mornings will be when you’re inspired. You won’t feel guilty all the time, and you’ll be conquering Resistance and doing your goddamned work.

This book is a masterpiece and I’m probably going to reread it soon; the audiobook is only like 3 hours long.

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Prague: Czechin’ Out

November 24, 2017. Prague, Czech Republic.

I got the itch again. It was time to get gone, and gone I got. I’m in a decent Viennese hostel right now, tapping away in bed, patiently waiting for an antisocial neckbeard to stop taking his eleven hour shower. I can hear him giggling to himself through the door. Here’s to hoping I never learn why.

I tried to write in the kitchen. Had my green tea, explored the “FREE FOOD” shelf that consisted entirely of different kinds of flour. Flour is just cakes that haven’t realized their potential yet. Could’ve had me a Flour Medley. 

I was just getting tickatackin’ when an old Brazilian DJ accosted me with screams of friendship. He invited me to his set at an African club fourteen hours from now. Well intentioned, but it’s very much 8 AM. Let a dude brood, huh?

Prague was interesting, but I found the vibe a little unsettling. Maybe it was the off-season, but the locals were all discernibly tired of tourists, and the tourists were all roving around in packs like loud, drunken wolves.

I met an Indian dude on the metro last night and we got to talking about that. He got on a bus earlier and wound up sitting behind a gaggle of American girls who were talking about dirty dishes in loud, shrill English. He fell asleep, woke up two hours later, they’re talking about the same dirty dishes.

What’s the point of traveling? You’re gonna say and do the same things you’ve always done, with the same safe little enclave, at the same volume, why leave home?

Best left to better minds than mine. Let’s talk Czechia.

Sex was on every billboard and ad. Yeah, we get that kind of thing back in America, but it’s a lot more obvious in Europe, and the most obvious in Prague. These are tamer examples, but look at her just going to town on that kebab. Unf.

My pet theory is an ingrained rebellion against the forced respect and antisexuality of the Soviets, but that’s just conjecture. There’s also the stereotype of the Czech mail-order bride, which suggest it’s more of a “flaunt it if you got it” thing.

My entire trip, no matter where I went, everyone kept warning me about how beautiful the Czech women would be. To believe the hype, every random girl on the street is going to be a flawless seraphym, glistening and effulgent, sculpted with loving and immaculate precision by the right hand of God. I’m thinking my sources might’ve been biased by the how many porn stars are Czech. I’m an aesthete – I look at paintings and shit, I own tiny statues – and I didn’t notice any statistical upshoot in walking-around hotness. Although I will say that, on a whole, Europe is much more attractive than America.

23897269_1137519936384311_131910457_o

so are you looking for a boiling grease fragrance, or more of an Eau de Stables

It must be their diet, because it certainly isn’t their exercise. Nobody even lifts, but nobody even eats 20 piece McNugget breakfasts either. No matter how thoroughly I explain the value.

23846576_1138291366307168_535157457_n

that’s the name you’re gonna go with? there was a plague, dude

A final point on Prague I didn’t get to mention: the lock bridges.

Prague is heralded as a romantic city. I didn’t see it, myself. Too crowded, too understated, too full of Wurst. But I did see an Asian couple get married at St. Vitus, or at least take some wedding pictures on the terrifying Gothic steps, and there’s a popular local tradition that really elevates littering to its most beautiful, amorous level.

You write your name on a lock, and you stick it on a bridge. It uglies up the bridge, but it stays there, presumably forever. A little more industrial than carving initials in with a knife, but you can add cute little notes in sharpie if that’s your thing.

I seemed to be the only one put off by the symbolism of a padlock representing a relationship.

Prague was a head trip, but a cold head trip, painted in dark colors. I’m about to go poke around Vienna now. I’ll let you know what I find.

Love,

The Bastard

The Rocky Road to Dublin

October 24, 2017. Dublin, Ireland.

Another interactive post! For most authentic results, play this song over and over until you lose the ability to sleep for three days.

After my disastrous layover in Boston, my master plan was to sleep all six hours of my first intercontinental flight and then spring into action, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, upon arriving in Dublin. But you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men… something. Once on the plane, I traded seats with some guy so he could sit next to his “wife” or whatever, which put me next to a fellow wanderer who was very excited about backpacking Ireland. She’d been to Europe four other times so she was giving me a lot of helpful advice and asking a battery of pertinent questions, which I appreciated, even as she kept aborting my attempts to get any sleep at all in my life ever. Then again, my engines run just south of nuclear at the most serene of times, so it’s unlikely I would’ve managed to get much sleep anyway while hurtling through the sky over shark-infested waters in a giant metal tube toward the land of my foremothers.

My irrepressibly inquisitive single-serving friend and I parted ways after customs in an appropriately Irish goodbye. Thereafter, I figured out how buses work. You give them money, and they scowl at you, and then you hit the button before it gets to your stop or they’ll drop you off at the next stop.

♫ In Dublin next arrived, I thought it such a pity
to be so soon deprived a view of this fine city ♫

Unfortunately, I got off the bus in center city at 6 AM, not realizing that Ireland doesn’t open until 8. I had booked in advanced at a hostel called The Four Courts which was so closed that there was a cage in front of the door. My options had narrowed.

So like the idiot protagonist of the aforementioned folk song, I decided to take a stroll. In the rain. For two hours. Desperate for breakfast.

There was one place, called The Pantry, that opened a half hour before the rest of Dublin. I skittered in and ordered the “jumbo” breakfast, whereupon I learned jumbo means something different here than it does in America. Still, they gave me a truly devastating quantity of pig flesh.

pigs

I hadn’t realized there were so many ways to turn pigs into breakfast. You see those little disks on the right? That’s fried blood. It’s alleged that it’s “pudding”, but they have to be aware of the other kind of pudding, that rarely contains blood. I believe this known colloquially as “taking the piss”. And then one lone hash brown, in solemn remembrance.

I paid then got terribly lost, but I’m told that’s part of the experience. You’d think it would be easy to orient yourself by the giant river that cuts through the middle of town. I kept losing it. Poor visibility from the rain, I imagine, and also everyone in a car was trying to kill everyone else in a car as loudly as possible.

Four or five miles later, I found this sign that I recognized from my failed attempt at getting into my hostel earlier.

surgery
seems legit

I gained access this time by pressing a metal button. Apparently, I could have done that three hours prior too. You win this round, The Four Courts.

I’ve technically been awake for two days but my bed won’t be ready until 3 pm and there’s enough caffeine pounding through my bloodstream to reanimate a notably large corpse.

yall need anything

I think I’ll swing by the Tri-C and stock up on the trifecta: coffee, cadavers, and Christ. Y’all need anything?

Love,

The Bastard

 

Philly International: The Sights, the Smells

October 23, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This is an interactive post. Using the wonders of modern technology, you can experience the magic of Bastard Travel in real time! All you need to do to feel like you’re really here, with me, at PHL, is hover your face roughly a foot above a broken urinal and give a good, deep, Vicks Vapo-rub inhale.

Truly, though, even that doesn’t do it justice. Somehow the Philadelphia airport smells more like piss than piss does. The Platonian form of urine. If you can’t find a broken urinal, just break one yourself, I’ll be here when you get back.

Now that we’ve weathered that together, on with the story. I was throwing the dice on airport Chinese food because I have a 3 consecutive win streak with it and McDonnellzz squicks me out. I sit down and start into my 9 A.M. bourbon chicken and brown rice when what do my wondering eyes do appear but

incredibledog

This phenomenal boy.

(Note: As a dog scholar I am aware that it’s poor form to photograph a Safety Dog since they have a very important job to do and if you distract them from it their owner might die in the interim. To avoid interfering with the possibility that this incredible dog may need to administer the Heimlich, or extinguish its burning owner should he somehow catch fire, I was way shady about taking this picture.)

It’s impolite to bother a dog at work, no matter how well behaved and impeccably groomed he is. I ate my chicken in contemplative silence while he stared at me, emanating an aura of Lawful Good and licking his chops.

Were it not for the laws of this land, we would be sharing this airport Chinese food, as blood brothers.

The backpacking trip through Europe begins as soon as my flight stops getting delayed. Tentatively, I’ll be landing in Dublin at 5 AM on October 24th. I’m hoping they have a 24 hour breakfast situation nearby where I can get some of those breakfast beans I hear so much about, and the sausage made of blood. That could be pretty metal.

I’ll keep you posted.

Love,
The eponymous Bastard

Europe Bound

Got a $700 round-trip to Europe for a month. Tentatively. Might stick around longer if it turns out I really like living the pseudo-hobo life.

Friend of mine said, “You’re going to be there an entire month? And you don’t even know anybody?”

“Nope.”

“That’s so scary.”

“That’s why I gotta.”

You have to make sure you can do these things. You’re never gonna know if you can write the novel til you put all the words on the page. You’re not gonna know if you have what it takes to run the whole “higher education” gamut until you got the diplomas in hand. You’re never gonna know what kind of person you are until you put yourself in a situation where you have to find out.

The chronicle starts in earnest next week.