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The Golden Hawk by Frank Yerby- Uh,… isn’t that rape?

The novel The Golden Hawk by Frank Yerby was okay, but I think the main character was a rapist. I mean, he didn’t think of himself as a rapist. He was never actually described as a rapist. But what he does in the novel would be considered rape by today’s standards.

Several scenes go like this: Male protagonist approaches woman. Woman says no. Male protagonist forcefully kisses woman. Woman struggles and says no. Male protagonist gets really forceful (holding her tight, tearing off her clothes). Woman finally relents and likes it a lot.

This approach might work for really attractive men with lots of money and power and alcohol (and more powerful substances/drugs). But for normal guys (or ugly guys with no money, power, or status), this approach is a disaster and would probably be called rape or attempted rape. It makes me wonder how much rape happened before I was born. I mean, if things are bad now, they had to have been really messed up before I was born.

I don’t even want to contemplate how much rape there used to be. At least, according to popular fiction of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, there had to be lots of rape going on. But it wasn’t called rape.

The cover blurb calls this type of behavior ‘lust’:

THE BESTSELLING EPIC OF PIRACY AND LUST ON THE LAWLESS SPANISH MAIN

In this case, ‘lust’ could be replaced with ‘rape’ and attempted ‘rape.’ I think a more accurate blurb would have been:

THE BESTSELLING EPIC OF PIRACY AND RAPE ON THE LAWLESS SPANISH MAIN

I’m no saint, but if a woman ever told me no, I’d back off. When I was dating, I tried to avoid being in a position where a woman told me no in the first place. I’d look for non-verbal signals. Did she voluntarily stand close to me? That was often a good sign. Did she flinch if I casually moved closer? That wouldn’t be so good. Did she have older brothers threatening to beat the crap out of me if I ever looked at her again? That was an automatic turn off.

The women in The Golden Hawk aren’t necessarily weak. Early in the novel, one major female character even shoots the male protagonist while he’s making a ‘lustful’ advance. Instead of contemplating the error of his ways, he spends the entire novel trying to hunt this woman down and seduce/rape her. I don’t want to belabor a point, but if a woman ever shot me while I made a lustful advance, I’d deduce that she wasn’t into me.

This 1966 paperback copy of The Golden Hawk proclaims that it was a bestseller. I think my dad read this book decades ago because I remember seeing Frank Yerby books, along with books by James Michener and Harold Robbins, around the house when I was a kid. My dad also liked Horatio Hornblower books (I don’t remember the author’s name) and Isaac Asimov, but I don’t think there was any lust/rape in those books. If you liked lust/rape, you’d read Frank Yerby and Harold Robbins.

Other than the rape (if you can ignore it), this was a very uneven novel. Some scenes were written well, with great dialogue, fast moving action, and reasonable descriptions/exposition. Then a great scene would be followed by a poorly written scene accompanied by unrealistic plot armor, crappy dialogue, and actions that didn’t make sense.

And then there’d be an attempted rape, usually followed by actual rape, except the woman ended up liking it, but it was still rape.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe women like to have men force themselves. Maybe I’ve allowed myself to fall for today’s wimpy social constructs. Maybe the pre-1960s had it right. Maybe. But I’ll let somebody else test it out for me today. I don’t want to go to prison.

Pirate… Adventurer… RAPIST!!!!!!

Judge a book by its title! starring… Assassins Have Starry Eyes by Donald Hamilton

That’s a lot of words on the cover.

Assassins Have Starry Eyes is kind of a stupid title for a book. That’s okay. Assassins Have Starry Eyes by Donald Hamilton is kind of a stupid book.

I like reading stupid books from the 1950s. The paper smells old. I don’t sniff the paper like some people do, but I usually hold the books close enough to my face so that I can catch the faint aroma of the pages. If a book like Assassins Have Starry Eyes were republished today, I probably wouldn’t buy it just because the paper wouldn’t smell old enough.

I think I just like holding and reading old paperback books. A few months ago, I realized that I had lost all interest in current fiction, but once I started reading old books with yellow, crumbling paper, my interest in fiction was rekindled.

Anyway, the title Assassins Have Starry Eyes caught my attention. I’m not sure if this is a good title or if the title is so stupid that it’s good.

The book’s former title Assignment-Murder is also kind of stupid and very misleading. Assignment-Murder sounds like the protagonist received the orders to kill somebody. It sounds like a James Bond knockoff title. In Assassins Have Starry Eyes, a couple of losers get the assignment to murder the protagonist, and they fail. You can’t have a book titled Assignment-Murder unless the murder is successful.

The book cover kind of gives the mystery away. From looking at it, the reader can infer that the blond chick on the cover is the assassin. She turns out to be the ringleader (kind of), but she doesn’t really threaten the protagonist like this in the novel. Plus, you can’t tell from the picture whether or not she has starry eyes.

The protagonist in Assassins Have Starry Eyes is an engineer developing atomic/nuclear weapons in the late 1950s, and people are trying to kill him. He’s not your typical scientist/engineer, though. He’s nice looking, and he knows how to talk to women. He’s more socially aware than most mad scientists or engineers because he knows not to talk about science/engineering to women. He talks normal stuff to women and makes fun of the other scientists/engineers behind their backs.

The scientist/engineer protagonist also likes to do masculine stuff life hunting and camping and getting laid in his spare time. He’s actually successful at all three while being an engineer; that’s how you know this book is fiction.

The title is also kind of a lie. There were several assassins in Assassins Have Starry Eyes, and only one of the assassins would have maybe fit the description. The first two would-be assassins were dudes and weren’t described as having starry eyes. I don’t even think their eyes were described. One assassin had closed eyes because he got killed before the narrator even saw him. The other assassin got beat up, so he might have had a black eye or his eyes might have seen stars after he got beaten up. Either way, the fortunate male assassin who survived didn’t have starry eyes.

More accurate titles might have been:

The Hot Blonde Assassin Had Starry Eyes.

Hot Blonde Assassins Have Starry Eyes.

That Hot Blonde Holding a Gun Isn’t Really An Assassin, But She Has Starry Eyes Even Though They Were Never Described That Way In The Novel.

Assassins Have Starry Eyes wasn’t a bad book. I enjoyed it, but it was kind of stupid. The banter between the protagonist and his wife was funny. I can forgive a lot of flaws in a book if it’s funny. Having an egghead scientist beat the crap out of would-be assassins was a little far fetched, but it didn’t ruin the book for me. Yeah, the cover spoils the ending a little, even if the scene doesn’t exactly happen as it’s shown.

Donald Hamilton also wrote a bunch of Matt Helm books, which I guess were popular in the 1960s. I’m not going to go out and look for a bunch of Matt Helm books at the used book stores now, but if I see them, I might buy one or two, especially if they have stupid titles.

Hey, everybody! It’s an acrostic!

5 Ways I’ve Messed Up My Own Blog

I’ve been blogging on Dysfunctional Literacy for over ten years, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily good at blogging. I probably don’t have the traffic I should. I don’t get a lot of comments from new posts. I don’t make any money off of my blog. From those perspectives, Dysfunctional Literacy might be considered a failure.

On the other hand, I’ve written a lot of stuff that I’m proud of. WordPress recommended my blog for about 18 months a few years ago, so somebody other than my mom thinks I’m a decent writer.

As far as social media relevance goes, though, I’ve done a lot of things wrong. This might not be everything I’ve messed up, but it’s a pretty good list.

1. Putting profanity in a bunch of my post titles

A few years ago I wrote a bunch of posts about the etymology of certain profane words. They were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and I didn’t think much of them, but they kind of messed up my blog a little bit. I didn’t censor the words either. I wrote ‘shit’ instead of ‘sh*t.’ I don’t see the point of writing ‘sh*t’ instead of ‘shit’. Everybody knows what ‘sh*t’ means.

Unfortunately, these are the only blog posts that have caught Google’s attention. Now most of my blog traffic comes to read about why words like shit and fuck are bad words. And I can’t monetize my blog because Dysfunctional Literacy is not considered a family friendly website. I bring in enough traffic to get monetized, but the posts that bring in the traffic make my blog unable to be monetized.

That’s okay. I didn’t want their stupid money anyway.

2. Not having a product to sell

I should have had a product to sell. I didn’t even have a book to sell when I started Dysfunctional Literacy. I still don’t have a real book yet. I’ve put out a few ebooks as practice and learned a few lessons (I’ll get to those lessons another time).

My one actual real book should be ready in about six months, and I’ll use Dysfunctionally Literacy a lot differently once I start promoting it. Don’t worry. I’m not bombarding everybody with a bunch of crap five times a day when I start selling my book , but if I do decide to bombard everybody five times a day, it will only be for that one book and for a little while. I won’t make a habit of bombarding everybody with crap all the time.

3. Writing about books and writing

This blog has way too narrow of a niche. Out of all the things to review on a blog, books are the worst. Books take way too long to read. I should have picked movies, television shows, or even comic books to review. Those guys who review movies or television shows or comic books can crank out content every day or even more frequently if they want to. Me? I have to take a week to read a whole damn book, and then I have to process it before I even start writing.

For a while I wrote what was called a Literary Glance, where I’d read the first few pages of a current popular book and review that. I was reading so many crappy books that I wasn’t enjoying them at all. I was reading books just to have something to review; I had no desire to read most of the books I was reviewing for a Literary Glance. I should have a desire to read a book before I decide to review it.

4. Not responding to comments

I don’t respond to comments as frequently as I should. Years ago when Dysfunctional Literacy was a WordPress recommended blog, I’d get dozens of comments almost every day and I had a full-time job and a family, so I couldn’t respond to everybody. Besides, most of the time I had no response other than “Thank you.” Maybe I should have littered my comments section with “Thank you” after “Thank you,” but I’m slow on the keyboard; even that would have taken time.

If you write a comment and I don’t respond, I don’t mean to be rude. It just means that I have no response other than “Thank you.”

5. Not having a clear purpose

I write book reviews. I write stories. I write humorous pieces. But my blog doesn’t have one specific purpose.

Plus, my blog’s name is Dysfunctional Literacy. The good thing about Dysfunctional Literacy was that the domain name wasn’t taken when I chose it, but nobody knows what it means. At the time, I was thinking of the term ‘functionally illiterate,’ and I thought about people who were capable of reading and chose to read what is considered crap rather than what is considered literature. They were literate but dysfunctional in their choices. Hence the term ‘dysfunctional literacy.’

Next time I start a blog, I’ll choose a name that I don’t have to explain.

Bad Lessons in Famous Books: The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins

The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins isn’t very good. It’s supposed to be one of those ‘steamy’ epics and focuses on several characters through several time periods. It starts off with a ‘steamy’ scene that is actually rape, except the female character gets into it.

In this scene, the female character says “no” to the guy a bunch of times He gets physical, so she slaps him. He hits her in the face. And then things get steamy. She even says “Do it to me” to him. Yeah, she’s playing a psychological game with the guy, but it’s still seems a bit much.

I don’t know. I wasn’t around in 1961 when this book was written, and this scene takes place in the 1920s. Maybe women got ‘steamy’ when they got hit in the face back in the 1920s, but I doubt it. I think it’s human nature not to like getting hit in the face.

I’ve been punched in the face a few times, and I’m not sure I would have been up for getting steamy right after that. I might have needed a couple minutes for my face to recover first. There are some things that I can’t do when my teeth are rattling.

A friend of mine in high school read The Carpetbaggers and took this face-punching scene to heart. There was a girl that he liked, and he wasn’t reading her nonverbal signals. Plus, she kept saying no. You don’t need nonverbal signals when the girl keeps saying no to you.

Anyway, he got a little too grabby, so she slapped him. He hit her in the face and tried to get steamy, but she scratched his eyes and got away. Then she called the police, and he got arrested. After he got out of jail, her older brothers beat the hell out of him really good, and the police didn’t do anything about it. He ended up with scratched eyes, a sideways nose, busted teeth, a permanent limp, and a criminal record.

Oh yeah, that guy wasn’t really my friend. I just knew who he was.

I bought this copy of The Carpetbaggers for $3.00 at a used book store. I almost didn’t buy it because it has a movie version cover with a guy who looks like Steve McQueen who’s in the movie version of this book. I have nothing against Steve McQueen. It’s not like he’s Kevin Spacey on the cover of The Shipping News. Steve McQueen was way cooler than Kevin Spacey could ever hope to be. I just like to visualize characters for myself when I read.

I haven’t seen the movie version, but I don’t think Steve McQueen played the character who hit the woman in that ‘steamy’ scene. I’d be disappointed if he did. Hitting a woman in a steamy scene seems more like a Kevin Spacey move.

Besides rape that’s portrayed as steamy, The Carpetbaggers has a lot of what is called ‘plot armor’ now. For example, a main character escapes a Louisiana prison by wading through a swamp for a week. That’s it. No problem. No explanation. He just waded through it. This character was so awesome that he could wade through a Louisiana swamp with no explanation.

He does a bunch of other improbable stuff too. A bunch of hot, rich women get steamy with him. He becomes a 1920s film star. He finds the men who killed his parents. He kills the men who murdered his parents with no tension whatsoever.

And the revenge isn’t written very well. I could have accepted the plot armor and other flaws in the writing if the revenge had been written well.

I think it’s funny that a book like this was such a bestseller in the 1960s and was still being read in the 1970s and 1980s. It shows that old stuff can suck just as much as new stuff. The Carpetbaggers is like a really long James Patterson novel, except he would have split this up into at least five books and had someone else write it for him.

That’s the lesson that I took from The Carpetbaggers; old stuff can suck just as much as new stuff. Yeah, that’s probably obvious to everybody else, but I knew one guy who read The Carpetbaggers and learned a different lesson.

And that guy wasn’t my friend. I just knew who he was.

Adverb Abuse starring… Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean

I’ll get to the adverb abuse in a moment.

I intended to finish Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean. I bought it for $3.00. If I spend my own money on a book, I intend on reading the whole thing. I remember several friends in the 1970s reading old Alistair MacLean paperbacks like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare and proclaiming how great they were.

For some reason, I was a bit skeptical. These same friends also really liked Hogan’s Heroes.

Anyway, I have a thing for old paperback novels right now. I went through a phase where I was having a tough time concentrating on fiction, but ever since I’ve started buying cheap old paperbacks again, I’ve been reading (almost) voraciously. I even liked From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming far more than I thought I would a few weeks ago.

Despite my rediscovered love for old paperback books, I stopped reading Where Eagles Dare after about 100 pages. It was way too outlandish, even by my standards. Too many close calls, harrowing escapes, and false alarms on every page. Characters handling trauma way too calmly. Double agents, triple agents, quadruple agents.

At some point governments have to wonder if they can trust their double/triple agents. Who do you hire to keep track of the double/triple agents? Another double triple agent?

And then there were the adverbs. As a former English teacher, I usually defend adverbs. A lot of writers claim that they dislike adverbs and consider overuse of adverbs as a sign of weak writing. My philosophy is that the adverb is a major part of speech; what’s the point of having a major part of speech if we’re not going to use it?

But then Alistair MacLean showed me exactly how not to use an adverb. All of the examples below are from one page early in the book. Don’t worry about the context, though. Everybody turns out to be a double or triple agent agent anyway, so it doesn’t matter what they’re saying.

*****

“I can’t help what you think,” Smith said kindly, patting her on the back.

“Language, language,” Smith said severely.

She said curiously: “What on earth excuse did you give for coming back up here?”

“It’s still inside Sergeant Herrod’s tunic,” Smith said sombrely. “He’s up here, dead.”

“Don’t tell me,” Mary said resignedly. “I’m only a little girl. I suppose you know what you’re doing.”

“I wish to God I did,” Smith said feelingly.

*****

That’s all on one page. Where Adverbs Dare is an entire novel filled with this. Maybe it wasn’t the entire novel. Maybe the author stopped writing like this after page 100, and I didn’t see it because I stopped reading, but I’m pretty sure it’s like this the entire book.

Where Eagles Dare was published in 1967. Maybe this type of adverb usage was normal in the middle-to-late 1960s, but I doubt it. I’ve read a bunch of books from that period, and I don’t recall seeing this many -ly adverbs used so frequently so many times so consistently in one novel.

As much as I defend adverbs, even I have to admit this is poor. It’s not the reason that I stopped reading Where Adverbs Dare, but the overuse of -ly adverbs didn’t help.

*****

I could never be a double/triple agent. I’m horrible at lying. My ears get red.

Or maybe I can make my ears turn red, even when I’m telling the truth, and I just pretend that I’m bad at lying so that people can trust me.

Or maybe I just say that I can turn my ears red at will so that when I lie I can hide the fact that I’m bad at lying. But then my ears would turn red.

I just confused myself now. That just proves that I’d be a double/triple agent. Or maybe I’m just pretending that I confused myself.

*****

What do you think? Were any of these -ly adverbs necessary? Did they add anything to the sentence (as far as you can tell)? Was it fair of me to judge my friends’ tastes negatively because they liked Hogan’s Heroes?

What Books Would You Ban From The Public Library (even if you’re against banning books)?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably against the idea of banning books in public libraries. At least, you won’t admit out loud that you want to ban books. I rarely meet anybody who’ll admit that he/she wants to ban books.

I’m pretty sure you’re against banning books because according to a recent poll, hardly anybody in the United States wants to ban books from libraries anymore. Last week the American Library Association put out a poll about voter opinions on banning books from the public libraries. It’s tough for the ALA to get coverage even on a slow news day, so with wars breaking out and economies collapsing, nobody paid attention.

The last time I saw the ALA make news was a few years ago when they renamed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for children’s books because her Little House on the Prairie books had a few racist references back in the 1930s. That made news, and everybody had an opinion about it. If you throw race into a topic, it will always make news. The next time the ALA wants to make news again, they should just throw race into their poll, and it will make the news and everybody will have an opinion.

Anyway, everybody knows not to trust polling anymore. If there’s any group that’s less popular than lawyers or politicians or journalists or Hollywood celebrities, it’s pollsters. Still, pollsters have to make a living, and the American Library Association wants to try to make news or raise awareness, so here we go!

*****

https://www.ala.org/advocacy/voters-oppose-book-bans-libraries

  • By a substantial 42-point margin, voters oppose efforts to have books removed from their local public libraries because some people find them offensive or inappropriate and do not think young people should be exposed to them: 71% oppose, 29% support. Majorities of Democrats (75%), independents (58%), and Republicans (70%) are opposed.
  • Parents also oppose efforts to remove books from their local public libraries by a significant 20-point margin: 60% oppose, 40% support.

*****

I’m a bit skeptical. All this poll shows is that democrats and republicans are less likely to admit that there are books they’d ban if they had the chance. At least Independents are more likely to be honest about it.

Hey, I’m opposed to banning books too, but I have my limits. I’d probably ban Massage Parlor II by Jennifer Sills if I had the chance. In the interests of full disclosure, I obtained a copy of Massage Parlor II from one of my older brothers when I was a teenager in the late 1970s, so I can’t blame the public library (or the Ivy League, like I usually do) for that.

If I saw a copy of Massage Parlor II at the library, I might suggest that it was inappropriate for a public library. I’ve heard that Massage Parlor I was kind of inappropriate as well. You know, I’m pretty sure the whole series is inappropriate!

Once I started banning books, I’d probably go on a banning spree. I’d ban 1984 by George Orwell and 2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I remember both 1984 and 2001, and both books got those years completely wrong. I’d probably ban those two books from school libraries if I could too. I don’t want students reading 1984 and 2001:A Space Odyssey and believe that 1984 and 2001 were really like that.

I’d also ban children’s books written by celebrities. In fact, any book that a celebrity writes should be banned from public libraries, just because. The exception would be a celebrity who became famous for writing books. That doesn’t happen very often, but I’d make allowances for that.

And anything by James Patterson? Banned. And anything written by James Patterson and a co-author? Double banned! Banning books by James Patterson would save a lot of space in the public libraries for books that are actually good.

I could probably think of a bunch of other books to ban, but I’ll stop there. I don’t want to get carried away. I think I’ve been reasonable so far. Besides, I’m against banning books anyway. And so are you.

*****

What do you think? I know you’re against banning books, but if you absolutely had to ban books against your will, what books would you ban?

What was the deal with…? From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

The novel From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming caught me by surprise with its cliffhanger ending.

*****

Bond pivoted slowly on his heel and crashed headlong to the wine-red floor.

*****

That was it! That was the final sentence of the book.

Yeah, I’m sorry I spoiled the ending. The novel came out in 1957, and I haven’t had any coffee yet, so my empathy hasn’t kicked in. I might apologize for the spoiler later.

Anyway, I was kind of pissed off when I read that final sentence. I checked to see if my copy had missing pages. But the back of the final page had an advertisement, so I knew that was it. Either James Bond had died, or From Russia With Love had a cliffhanger.

I didn’t know that James Bond books had cliffhanger endings. The book ending is similar to the movie ending in that this old lady SMERSH director Rosa Klebb is kicking James Bond with her poison-laced steel-spiked boot. The scene in the movie version looks ridiculous, but she actually gets him in the book, and the last sentence shows James Bond collapsing.

I’ve always hated cliffhangers in books and movies. The worst was the cliffhanger in the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back because I was in middle school when it was released and knew I had to wait three years for the next movie. Three years seemed like an eternity when I was in middle school. Now three years seems like tomorrow.

I don’t mind a cliffhanger in an old James Bond book because From Russia With Love came out in 1957 and I can easily get the next book if I want it. I might read another James Bond book if I see it, but only if it’s a copy that came out before the movies.

I bought this copy of From Russia With Love for $3.00 at a used book store because it doesn’t have Sean Connery on the cover. Even though Connery is considered to be THE James Bond, I like to visualize my own characters, and Sean Connery isn’t what my brain came up with while reading this book. I like too many low-brow books to be a book snob, but I still want to have copies of books that came out before the movie adaptations, even if the movies are good.

This cover (pictured above) is kind of nondescript, with a bland white cover and a tiny illustration with the female barely visible. The 007 on the top left corner is cool. I’m surprised the publishing company didn’t try to have a book cover that stood out more. Maybe James Bond books back then didn’t have to have appealing covers; maybe being a James Bond book was enough to guarantee sales.

The structure of the novel is backwards in some ways. James Bond doesn’t even make an appearance until after page 70. The beginning focuses on SMERSH’s plan to kill James Bond. It introduces the SMERSH agents involved and a also a bunch of minor characters that the reader never sees again in this book. The reader knows the SMERSH plans before James Bond does.

The SMERSH plot to kill James Bond is kind of ridiculous. The SMERSH organizers admit that the plan seems ridiculous. James Bond and his boss M don’t know what the plan is, but they think the situation that the Soviets have presented them with is ridiculous. They’re sure it’s a trap, but it’s so ridiculous that they can’t pass it up.

I’m not complaining that the plot of From Russia with Love is ridiculous. I’ve seen almost every James Bond movie, and the plots are always ridiculous. This book is just more low-key ridiculous than any of the movies (except for maybe the movie version of From Russia With Love).

Ian Fleming, the author of the original James Bond books, was supposedly a knowledgable world traveler and used his experiences to describe locations in his books. After reading From Russia With Love, I’m guessing that Ian Fleming did not like Istanbul. If I were to base my world traveling on portrayals in James Bond books, I’d say stay away from Istanbul. Do not go to Istanbul! Bad things happen in Istanbul! At least in the 1950s they did. Maybe Istanbul has improved since then.

I enjoyed reading From Russia With Love, but I’m glad I didn’t read it in 1957. That cliffhanger ending would have put me in a bad mood.

George R.R. Martin admits that he’ll never finish A Game of Thrones

First of all, a part of me can’t believe that famous author George R.R. Martin is still alive. That might sound harsh, but he doesn’t look like a healthy guy. I know several health conscious people, and none of them want to follow the George R.R. Martin regimen.

I suggested on this blog way back in 2012 that George R.R. Martin might not finish the Game of Thrones book series, also known as A Song of Ice and Fire. Back then, nobody noticed because nobody read my blog. Statistically, nobody reads my blog now, but at least now I occasionally get a comment when I say something controversial.

Even though I thought George R.R. Martin might not finish the series, I believed in 2012 that he would at least finish the next book The Winds of Winter. I thought Martin’s problem with completing A Song of Ice and Fire was going to be wrapping everything up in two or three more books. I thought he was writing himself into an infinite series that would require too many books for his life span.

Back in 2012, I would have been surprised to find out that George R.R. Martin was still alive in 2022. Even back in 2012, George R.R. Martin looked rather unhealthy. I’ve lost friends and family that looked healthier than George R.R. Martin in 2012. Last year, a good friend of mine died. He was a fan of A Song of Fire and Ice and was pissed that the series never got finished.

His final words were, “I can’t believe that George R.R. Martin outlived me, that bastard.”

I admit, those probably weren’t his final words. I wasn’t there in my friend’s final moments. But I’m pretty sure he had that thought at some point. He was pissed that he never had the chance to read The Winds of Winter.

The reason I’m writing about this topic on my blog is because last week Martin made some remark that he was “weary” of his fans asking him about The Winds of Winter. According to Martin, he has a bunch of other projects that he’s working on first and that fleshing out his fantasy world of Westeros is more important than than the one story of A Song of Ice and Fire.

To be fair, George R.R. Martin didn’t say the exact words “I’ll never finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire,” but I know that’s what he meant. Why else would he be tired of answering questions about it? If he were going to finish the series, he’d probably be encouraged by the questions.

At this point, I don’t care if he finishes A Song of Ice and Fire. Yeah, I must care a little if I’m writing a blog post, but you don’t have to care about something to write about it. I think the topic is interesting, but I don’t care anymore if he doesn’t finish the series. I might still read the remaining books if they ever come out (which they won’t), but I won’t miss them if they’re never completed (which they won’t be).

I admit, I cared about five years ago. I had stated several times that I wouldn’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until he’d finished the series, but then I broke down and, one by one, I read the books. My opinion of the books was pretty much the same as everybody else’s opinion, and my opinion of the HBO television series is pretty much the same as everybody else’s, so I won’t get into what I think about them.

Some fans are so desperate for a literary conclusion to A Song of Ice and Fire that they want Martin to have some other author finish the series, like Brandon Sanderson did with Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I think James Patterson would be a good choice. He could have the remaining books out by next month. Yeah, they’d have one-page chapters with cheesy dialogue, but at this point nobody cares about writing quality anymore. Nothing could be worse than Season 8.

I take that back. A lot of things could be a lot worse than Season 8, but you know what I mean.

And to be clear, I don’t want George R.R. Martin to die. I’m just surprised he hasn’t. I mean, c’mon! Look at the picture!

How to Avoid a Femme Fatale: Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain

Whenever a woman asks me to murder someone, I say no and I bail out of the relationship. It’s a simple rule. I guess some guys have a tough time with it, though.

You see, I don’t have a problem with takin’ a tumble with a hot married dame here or there, but when she starts crying about how horrible her husband is and he doesn’t deserve to live, I say thank you for the afternoon and I get out of town.

Even if you think morality is relative, murdering for a woman is a bad idea. If some broad had me murder for her, what’s she gonna do in a few months when she gets bored with me? I’m paranoid enough without some ‘grieving’ hot widow who just cashed out on a life insurance policy putting my life out for sale.

So when I bought this copy of Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain for $3.00 at a used book store, I thought, here we go, another guy who murders for a bad girl. The femme fatales in James M. Cain novels are usually married women, like in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, so I was a little surprised that this book was a little different. Not better. Just different.

I’ll give the bad girl in Past All Dishonor some credit. She didn’t get the poor schmuck protagonist to murder for her. He did that on his own. In fact, I don’t think the bad girl in Past All Dishonor did anything all that bad until the end of the novel. Yeah, she was a prostitute, but she was open about it. She didn’t mislead the schmuck. But then he goes and murders a rich guy who’s going to marry the prostitute he’s in love with. She didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it.

And then she got turned on by it.

That was new to me. I didn’t know women got turned on by murder. I guess that’s why the murder rate in this country is so high. It’s the damn women’s fault. If women didn’t get so turned on by murder, we men wouldn’t go around killin’ each other that much.

I’m willing to be immoral for a woman, but I have my limits. I’ve lied for women in the past. I’ll do that. I’ve never murdered anybody for a woman, though. My line is somewhere in between lying and murder. I also won’t run an insurance scam for a woman. But I’ve committed a minor property damage crime for a woman. So my line is somewhere between committing a minor property damage crime and running an insurance scam.

And if I was in love with a prostitute (I know the correct form of the verb here is ‘were,’ but nobody in noir cares about subjunctive mood), I definitely wouldn’t murder for her, like the schmuck in Past All Dishonor. It would be like some no-name character murdering Richard Gere in the middle of the movie Pretty Woman. And then Julia Roberts gets turned on that the no-name character murdered Richard Gere for her. And then they decide to rob Jason Alexander. I gotta admit, that ending might have been an improvement.

Pretty Woman was a crummy movie. That’s okay. Past All Honor was kind of a crummy book. I was expecting more. Even James M. Cain can have a bad day, I guess. I don’t know what he was thinking, writing noir where the femme fatale doesn’t ask a guy to murder her husband.

Past All Dishonor does have a great mid-book summary from the schmuck’s point-of-view on page 118.-

*****

“So you were going to save the Confederacy and help the boys in gray and now you’re a goddam paid gunman in a Nevada gambling sink all dressed in black velvet like a Mexican cowboy with yellow curls over your collar and in love with a whore that’s not worth the powder it would take to blow her to hell.”

*****

Ha! It’s a little harsh, but it was good foreshadowing. Damn, I just gave away the ending.

I can see why noir didn’t last too long as a popular sub-genre. The situations are too easy to avoid. If some dame tells you to murder her husband, you say no. And if you fall in love with a prostitute who’s about to get married, let her get married. And then when she asks you later to kill her husband, you say no.

Unless she’s really hot.

Literary Gimmicks in Famous Novels: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Nobody really cares what I think about Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s considered an American classic, and my opinion isn’t going to change anybody’s mind. I’m not even sure what my opinion is anyway.

Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1962, and my daughter had to read it in high school a couple years ago. I got a little jealous. Slaughterhouse-Five has fewer than 50,000 words. I wish I had been forced to read novels with fewer than 50,000 words when I was in in high school.

When I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut last week, I was struck by how much the novel relies on literary gimmicks.

I’m not going to summarize Slaughterhouse-Five because you can get that anywhere. I just want to look at a few devices that Vonnegut used and then question how much these gimmicks affected the quality of the book. Since I’m using a couple literary gimmicks in my own novel, I’m analyzing the literary devices some famous authors have used in their most successful books.

Slaughterhouse-Five begins and ends with chapters written from the author’s/narrator’s point-of-view. The author/narrator explains that he’s tried to write a book about his experiences as a POW in Dresden during World War II. The author rambles a little and claims that his book would be a failure.

I’m not sure if having an author/narrator claim that the book would be a failure is a literary device/gimmick or not. It’s similar to dramatic irony; when Vonnegut wrote his book, he didn’t know his novel would be so successful. Or did he?

The bulk of Slaughterhouse-Five, the Billy Pilgrim story, is told out of order because of the Tralfamadorians, aliens with an ability to see dimensions that humans are incapable of seeing/experiencing. I admit, I prefer linear stories. I believe there’s the possibility that time isn’t linear and that I’m simply not capable of seeing it, but I don’t feel threatened by my inability to see it. I might be better off not being able to see it.

Even if I can’t see time as non-linear in reality, I can see it in fiction, and the out-of-sequence storytelling seems to work in Slaughterhouse-Five.

The phrase “And so it goes” is repeated throughout Slaughterhouse-Five and is used whenever death is mentioned. A lot of readers get annoyed at the repetition, but repetition is a common literary device when writers want to emphasize a point, so I don’t have a problem with it. And I don’t have a problem with readers who get annoyed by it either.

“And so it goes” is like a literary ear worm. Even though I first read Slaughterhouse-Five decades ago, the phrase “And so it goes” still pops up in my head whenever I hear about death. The phrase popped up in my head a lot in 2021. I guess that shows how effective of a device/gimmick it was. But it can still be annoying.

What would Slaughterhouse-Five be like without the literary gimmicks? If I had more time (or if I cared enough), I’d take the Billy Pilgrim bulk of the book, chop up all the non-linear scenes, and then place them in a proper linear timeline. Then I’d chop out all the “And so it goes.” And I’d leave out the author-narrator sections at the beginning and end. And then I’d read the book and see if how much the gimmicks improved the novel.

I’m not saying a gimmick-free Slaughterhouse-Five would suck, but it probably would have been pretty bland. It probably wouldn’t be considered an American literary classic. I think Billy Pilgrim would have been less of a compelling character without the time traveling. Plus, I like the aliens. Without the aliens, you can’t have the time-traveling. Without the aliens and time traveling, Slaughterhouse-Five becomes just another book about a veteran with PTSD.

Now I’m curious how much Kurt Vonnegut relied on literary gimmicks in his other novels. I’ve read Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions, but I don’t remember anything about them, so I can’t make the call. Maybe I’ll read them again to find out.

Or better yet, maybe somebody else can tell me. What do you think? Would Slaughterhouse-Five be the same without the gimmicks. Did Kurt Vonnegut rely too much on gimmicks when he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five? Did Kurt Vonnegut’s literary gimmicks hide his mediocre (or outright bad) writing?