Collings Notes: Jason V. Brock’s "Milton’s Children"–Paradise …

Jason
V. Brock. “Milton’s Children.” Bad Moon Books, 2012.

I
don’t know whether Jason Brock wears a hat or not. But if he does, he must have
been kept busy tipping it while writing his singularly effective novella,
“Milton’s Children.”

The
story begins, perhaps a bit oddly, with a question: “Why are you a vegetarian,
Carter?” This relatively non-horrific question introduces both a primary
character, Adam Carter (the name is highly suggestive, given the novella’s
title and the headnote from John Milton’s Paradise
Lost
), and a key issue…although for several pages the ensuing dialogue
between Carter and his equally suggestively named antagonist, Chris Faust (c.f. Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, another Renaissance
disquisition on pride, sin, forgiveness, and hell) seems more a one-sided rant
than the introduction to a short story.

The
two characters cover a number of issues, although Faust is more often than not limited
to a few words or sputtered phrases while Carter is given full play for his
arguments, which include the possibility of animal communication before
broadening to incorporate pollution, global warming, overuse of antibiotics and
chemicals, and a range of additional appalling side-effects of human arrogance.
Finally, Carter asks his own question, “I mean, where does ‘evil’ begin to
enter into the picture, Faust?”

After
a brief hiatus for some necessary backstory, the tale reaches a transition
point and moderates into what is essentially a finely crafted throwback to the
Golden Age of Creature Features. One of the crew has discovered a mysterious, unknown
island, revealed only when global warming causes the Antarctic floes to recede.
Perhaps never trodden on by humans, the island offers a temptation none can
resist. They must explore it.

The first
impression the landing crew receives is of an Antarctic Garden of Eden…but as
with all great Creature Features, first impressions prove woefully,
disastrously, horrifically and bloodily wrong.

And thus
the deaths begin.

In
addition to those already mentioned, Brock incorporates layer upon layer of
allusion to strengthen his modest tale. Several are referred to by name: Jonathan
Swift and A Modest Proposal; Mary Shelley
and Frankenstein (with its insistence
on Paradise Lost as a proof text for
the creature’s moral inquiries); H.P. Lovecraft and At the Mountains of Madness; Skull Island and the various film
versions of King Kong. Others seem
more incidental, although still powerful: E.R. Burroughs’ Pellucidar series
(one of Brock’s characters is Darrell Mahar). The captain of the rescue ship in
the final chapters is Commander Merritt (c.f. A. Merritt?) and the Communications
Officer is surnamed ‘Adams,’ underscoring at least two major themes in “Milton’s
Children.”

(And
one intriguing echo—which I can’t lay this on Brock, of course, since I don’t
know what films he has watched—by the end of his story there are a number of key
resemblances in “Milton’s Children” to one of my favorite ’50s pieces, Roger
Corman’s The Attack of the Crab Monsters.)

Tying
all of these disparate threads together is the introductory note, Satan’s
speech as he surveys the newly created Earth (Paradise Lost, Book IX, ll. 135-139) and brags of the destruction
is he about to wreak on it and on unsuspecting humanity. Although it is clear from
the poem as a whole that Satan is here being self-delusive and that the Father
has in fact planned all that occurs, his words remain powerful. Like others
alluded to in “Milton’s Children”—Milton’s Adam, Marlowe’s Faust, Frankenstein,
Lovecraft’s multifold meddlers in Cosmic affairs, generations of fictional explorers invading unknown
landscapes where they have no right to be—Satan is about to assert dominion over
that which is not his…and pay the ultimate consequences.

In
total, “Milton’s Children” is fascinating. It blends elements that seem on the
surface antithetical. It encourages reminiscence even as it suggests
far-reaching, futuristic possibilities. It combines an elegant command of
language with a relatively fundamental but thoroughly enjoyable plot. It
incorporates clichéd characters and situations in ways that bring them new
life. It manages to tip its hat to perhaps a score of equally intriguing sources while maintaining its own integrity as a narrative. And all within the confines of fewer than seventy pages.

Recommended.

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Chatty owls and 17 more amazing animal photos

Link –  Chatty owls and 17 more amazing animal photos Continue reading

Pictures from the World Horror Convention in New Orleans

Hello. I am not as cranky as this picture suggests. Stick with me and I promise to smile.

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This is my Bitchy Resting Face

A week ago I was in New Orleans for the

Bram Stoker Awards Weekend incorporating World Horror Convention

— which for brevity’s sake I’ll refer to as WHC.

I stayed at the convention venue: the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. My friend and fellow writer, Eliza Hirsch, shared a room.

I arrived Wednesday night with no trouble–unlike Eliza, whose flight was canceled, but that’s her story to tell. I rode the Airport Shuttle into the French Quarter, checked in to the hotel, dropped off my stuff, and went in search of a grocery store. I was going on an all day tour the following morning and I’d been told there wouldn’t be time to stop for food, so I stocked up on bread, blueberry preserves, peanut butter, and a lot of fruit. There was a minor incident when my bag fell off the counter while I was paying and the jar of preserves shattered inside the bag, but the kind staff replaced the jar and I only had to spend a little time washing blueberry paste off my bananas.

The weather was clear during my excursion, humid, and hot. I assembled my lunch for the next day, had a cocktail in the hotel bar (it spins slowly, hence the name Carousel) and went to bed.

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A dim view of the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone

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A Vieux Carre at the Hotel Monteleone

Thursday morning I ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Criollo–a delicious egg white omelet filled with vegetables and a spicy tomato sauce, plus lots of coffee. Then I caught the tour bus and we headed out to the Laura Plantation.

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Front of Laura — a Creole Plantation, comprehensive info here

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Inside of one of the Laura Plantation slave quarters where folklorists recorded the Br’er Rabbit tales

Soon enough we were on our way to the swamp. I had arranged for a six-person airboat tour of the swamp, but lucked out. Only four of us were on the boat.

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Waiting for my turn on the airboat. Not pictured: slathering on sunscreen.

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My view on the airboat

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“Airboat Self-Portrait” is the name of my next band

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Our guide feeds marshmallows to a gator

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Spanish Moss is not a moss. It is related to the pineapple.

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A final stop in the marsh, talking about collecting gator eggs

Overall I really enjoyed the airboat swamp tour. I compared notes with some folks who took the regular flat-bottomed boat and they interacted with more wildlife, but the ride through the swamp was exhilarating.

Time passes. I meet up with my roommate and go on a ghost tour. Buy one Hurricane, get one free…

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We were in the Beast group

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“Creepy Jesus Shadow”

After the tour was over, Eliza and I took a brief walk down Bourbon Street. Thankfully, no pictures exist of that excursion.

The next morning (Friday) I went to a useful workshop about marketing taught by Matt Schwartz. And then I went to panels and readings.

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Lisa Morton interviews John Joseph Adams

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Selling Your Short Story Panel: Simon McCaffery, Ellen Datlow, Norman Prentiss, John Joseph Adams

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Caitlín R. Kiernan is interviewed by Angel Leigh McCoy

Dinner was at a Paris-style place. I enjoyed the Shrimp Creole and a Bloody Mary. Then I returned for more.

Eliza and I dressed up for the dance.

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Eliza looking lovely

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Me goofing around

Next day more panels and readings. And a Kaffeeklatsch with Caitlín R. Kiernan.

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Robert McCammon, reading

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Kaffeeklatsch: Caitlín R. Kiernan (Best two and a half hours of the con)

For lunch I joined a group at Mr. B’s for seafood gumbo and a Bloody Mary.

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Caitlín R. Kiernan, reading

Eliza and I took a break to go to the Voodoo Museum with a stop at the Faulkner House and another for daiquiris.

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Voodoo Museum

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Voodoo dolls

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Offerings at the Voodoo Museum

That evening I went to the Bram Stoker Awards, but I was too busy telling jokes and stuffing my face to take crummy camera phone pics.

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Eliza and I went to see fellow writer Sanford Allen play a gig with his band Hogbitch at Checkpoint Charlie’s

Sunday morning arrived fast. As an aside, I ate almost every breakfast at Café Beignet. Fabulous Cajun Hashbrowns and omelets.

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Advice for New Writers Panel: K. Trap Jones, Liz Gorinsky, L. L. Soares, Yvonne Navarro, Rena Mason

I also went to the dialogue panel but didn’t take a photo. Too busy scribbling notes.

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The Future of Writing Panel: Peter Giglio, Jason V Brock, Alexandra Sokoloff, William F. Nolan

After the closing ceremonies I joined up with some cool people, ate lunch, walked around and imbibed a lot–including a stop at Pat O’Brien’s for a Hurricane. Also, absinthe.

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At The Olde Absinthe House, the bartender prepares our drinks

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My glass of Mata Hari absinthe. Very tasty. The anise was subtle.

Sunday night also involved a snack at Daisy Duke’s and a lot of packing. Monday morning I caught a shuttle to the airport and had an uneventful trip home.

Can’t wait for next year in Portland, OR!

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Then and now: Kids growing up with their four-legged friends

“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz once said that “happiness is a warm puppy.” Well, if that’s the case, absolute bliss might be a child cuddling up with one. As kids, pets are our friends, family members and, sometimes, partners in crime. In celebration of a pet’s influence on our childhoods, we asked for photos illustrating your kids growing up with their ever-faithful friends. Here are some of… Continue reading

Collings Notes: Jason V Brock, SIMULACRUM AND OTHER …

Simulacrum and Other
Possible Realities

Jason V. Brock.

Hippocampus

ISBN13: 97801061498-055-1

2013,
$20.00, Trade paper

It sometimes seems that
stories—often much like their authors—have shapes and textures. Some feel warm
and fuzzy; others are free-form, open, unrestrained; still others are
distanced, controlled and controlling.

After reading the stories and
poems that comprise Jason V Brock’s

Simulacrum
and Other Possible Realities,

I realized that no one else could have
written these pieces, brought the same sharpness of focus, the same intensity,
the same crispness of intellect to bear on such a variety of subjects. I’ve
only met Jason once, at the 2012 Horror Writers Association Conference, when he
served as a mediator-of-sorts between Rocky Wood and me on a Stephen King
panel. Rocky was having serious problems speaking, so as others on the panel
contributed their ideas, he wrote his responses on his computer; when the time
came, Jason read them aloud and commented on them. At the same time, he
re-stated panelists’ comments and audience questions for me, since I could frequently
neither hear nor understand them. I was impressed with his skill in handling
several tasks simultaneously, in remaining true to the individuals’ intentions
and at the same time bringing a unique perspective to them. I left the panel
grateful to have had his help and to have met him.

The stories and poems in Simulacrum fit perfectly with my view of
the author. They try to mediate, to transliterate as it were, from one mode of
thinking to another. The headnote story, “What the Dead’s Eyes Behold” is
rather like a 21st-century version of Robert Browning’s remarkable
study of abnormal psychology, “Porphyria’s Lover.” In it, the narrator speaks
of looking into his beloved’s eyes and, seeing there an instant of perfect,
undiluted love for him, “found/A thing to do”—he wraps her hair three times
around her throat and strangles her, thus encapsulating forever that single
moment. “And yet,” he notes almost as an afterthought, “God has not said a
word.”

In Brock’s story, the backgrounds
are diametrically opposed to Browning’s. There is no quest for an eternal
moment caught in an instant, for perfect love; instead, the character and his
victim/sacrifice, Calliope, exist in a world without love, without eternals.
And instead of searching for a phantom togetherness in a fraction of time, they
deny that any such togetherness can exist. All that exists is death. And, for
the narrator, the moment when living eyes look upon death. Hers…and his.

Browning’s lover found solace and
comfort; Brock’s cannot.

Near the end of the collection,
Brock has included his stand-alone novella, “Milton’s Children.” In some ways
it is the opposite of “What the Dead’s Eyes Behold.” It is external and
objective, the report of an expedition to a cluster of previously unknown
islands near the Antarctic. Yet, inexorably, what seems like an everyday
mission rapidly shifts to a phantasmagoria of horror ultimately equally
inexplicable and inconclusive. (For a longer review of the story, see

http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2013/01/jason-v-brocks-miltons-children.html

or

http://hellnotes.com/miltons-children-book-review

).

In between, Brock has incorporated
a wide range of stories that challenge the notions of normalcy, rationality,
and acceptability. “The Central Coast” has at its core a haunted bottle of wine
and the unforeseen consequences of a single drink. In “One for the Road,” there
is clearly a serial killer and a victim; the quandary is determining which is
which…and who is who—a leitmotif that
recurs in story after story. “The Hex Factor” takes as a given a world in which
hexes and magic not only work but are proprietor; what would the results be if
someone stole another’s Grimoire? “Valor: A Fable” is, again, a story about
choice and consequence, told in a just-so-slightly archaic diction that
perfectly weds tale to meaning.

And more….

Throughout, Brock deals with
questions of death and mortality (with a few glances at immortality), of
consequence, of choice, of the nature of identity itself. He does not hesitate
to incorporate politics, morality, and social causes into the fabric of the
stories, but in each instance, what might be merely an authorial intrusion
becomes welded to the story itself; to think about vegetarianism in “Milton’s
Children,” for example—as the opening pages insist that readers do—is to
prepare for the climax, for the realities that the characters discover on the
island.

Intercut with the stories are
poems that are as compressed and as trenchant as the tales themselves.
Typically, Brock explores multiple approaches: line-length free verse;
occasional spates of rhyme; typography and the visual effects of composition;
even variations in fonts to suggest shifts in meaning.

Taken as a whole,

Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities

is

echt

-Jason V. Brock. Each story,
each poem carries his unique imprint. Some might take longer than others to resolve,
but I the act of considering each lies a significant portion of their power.

Recommended.

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