A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an unexpectedly good book. His Ragged Company is a little bit western, a little bit steampunk, and infused with a kind of subtle magic that defies definition– it just is. Like the sun rising in the east or the stars turning overhead, odd people gravitate to the town of Blackpeak, Texas, and odd things happen there. In this regard, the first half of His Ragged Company is reminiscent of the writing of Ursula K Le Guin and Charles de Lint.

When weird things start happening around –and to– resident sheriff Elias Faust, he doesn’t wonder much about it. As the strange incidents and their resulting body count begin to grow, it becomes clear that there’s more threatening the small mining town than the occasional group of bandits.

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In my last blog post, I reviewed Vladimir Nabokov’s most controversial work of fiction, Lolita. Prior to that, I reviewed Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and today I’ll be completing this three-book review series by covering Invitation to a Beheading. I recommend reading these reviews in order, because I’ll also be covering how the author’s past seeps into his writing and criticizing some of his common themes.

Content warning for mention of pedophilia.

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In my last post, I began reviewing three of the works of author Vladimir Nabokov, starting with Pale Fire. Today I’ll be reviewing the author’s best-known and most controversial work, Lolita. Grab a cup of something caffeinated and buckle up, because this is going to be a long one.

Content warning for pedophilia, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic abuse/domestic violence, gaslighting, misogyny, and racism. This review pulls no punches, and I’m not going to gloss over any of the ugliness espoused within this book.

It’s not surprising to me that despite his pedigree, writing career, and status in society, Vladimir Nabokov initially had a hard time finding a publisher willing to print this story. What does surprise me is the literary acclaim it garnered later, and the starry-eyed praise it received. Take this quote from the back cover of the copy I borrowed, for example:

“The only convincing love story of our century.” –Vanity Fair

I’d like to have a word with whoever approved using this quote to describe Nabokov’s ode to pedophilia– because, out of all the things Lolita is and isn’t, the thing it absolutely isn’t the most is a love story.

Perhaps the best lesson that can be taken from the accolades this story has received is just how deeply entrenched and socially normalized pedophilia is– and how badly that needs to change.

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Until recently, Vladimir Nabokov was not a name that was familiar to me. I’ve heard of Lolita and its ugly reputation, but I was surprised to find that the same author wrote numerous other novels. One of these was Pale Fire, an excerpt from which is used in K’s baseline test in Bladerunner 2049.

…and blood-black nothingness began to spin
A system of cells interlinked within
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

–Vladimir Nabokov, “Pale Fire”

This excerpt alone is, to me, really good. It inspired me to pick up a copy of Pale Fire at my local library and read the rest.

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Back in mid-August, a buddy and I took off on an adventure. The original plan was to visit a site someone had told us about up near Wiseman, Alaska. The scenery was supposed to be stunning, the gold and semi-precious stones easy to find, and –best of all– the mining claim was lapsed so we wouldn’t technically be doing anything illegal.

I’m a skeptical person and this all sounded a bit too good to be true, but I went along with it anyway. Even if it didn’t pan out– pun intended– it’d still be a great adventure, right?

A little bit of history: Wiseman is roughly 300 miles north of Fairbanks on the Dalton Highway, the so-called Haul Road that connects Alaska’s farthest north transportation hub with the North Slope. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 14 people. The nearest community is Coldfoot, population 10.

The history of these two communities has been entwined since gold was first discovered in the area in 1899. While the initial goldrush didn’t last long, mining has continued off and on in the area since. Which brings us to today, and the now-abandoned industrial-scale Nolan Mine.

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In the cold darkness of after-hours KEL Port, something isn’t right. Hooligans search for off-worlders to torment. A supervisor tries to hide the evidence of his misdeeds. And down at the loading docks, something strange and dark has found its way into the habitat.

A Shadow of a Presence follows Bradley Radco, a not-so-ordinary cargo handler,  and shows a less Baron Cargo-centric (and less human-centric) side of KEL Port. It is the third installment of the Shadow sub-series, following A Shadow Among Shadows and A Shadow of a Rumor.

In his dimly lit booth at the back of Mog’s cantina, Radco fidgeted in his seat. The obtrusive thoughts were back, and stranger than ever. He blinked. Black liquid pooled on a gangway floor, slowly expanding. Ripples marred its surface.

He blinked again and the tunnel-like gangway was gone. He was still seated in his booth in the cantina, hands gripping the table on either side of his empty meal tray. Glass shattered as two patrons at the bar started a noisily unproductive wrestling match. Shouts rose as their compatriots cheered them on.

He really should head back to his living unit. It was late, and the cantina crowd would only get rowdier and more dangerous as the night wore on. Yet something seemed to hold him fixed in his seat– something dark and dreadful and unfinished. It whispered to him with a voice like the scales of some great serpent sliding between the insulated walls of the flier port. 

It’s just the heating system, Radco told himself. KEL Port seemed colder than usual tonight, and even the usually-warm cantina felt drafty. Perhaps the distant rushing sound was heat transfer fluid pushing additional warmth through the walls of the aging habitat.

Between blinks he saw the dark liquid again; it had found the joints of the gangway. Seeping into the structure, it oozed toward the loading dock. As the dock and its adjoining warehouse were more elevated than the supply pod parking structure, the liquid had to flow uphill. Liquids weren’t supposed to do that in an environment under the affect of gravity.

Radco lifted his hands off the table, mildly surprised by the twin circles of dampness left by his palms. Over by the bar, the Mog and his bouncers were separating the combatants and ejecting everyone involved. The maddening whispering continued, just a few decibels too low to make out the words.

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This is the sequel to my last blog post, Dry Cabins, Futility, and General Darkness. It’s late, but that’s probably on-brand for me at this point. (How long does it take to establish a brand, anyway? How many years do I have to struggle to get things out on time before I’m just “that guy whose content is always late?”) Anyway, on to the uplifting content you’ve been waiting for!

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I’ve been somewhat absent online for the last several months. First it was the move, and the frantic last week or so of packing, trucking, and cleaning. Then it was viciously thinning out my stuff to fit comfortably into a place with less than one third of the space of the old one. Since then I’ve just been trying to regain my equilibrium.

I’m still working on that last part. It’s always fun hunting for some tool or spare part you know you have, but which you now can’t find. Usually because it wound up buried at the bottom of some tote behind five other totes of tools and gear in the storage space under the stairs.

But I digress. Things have been less than great in a lot of ways. Moving back into a dry cabin (in Alaska, ‘dry’ means no running water) after having the unbelievable luxury (sarcasm intended) of an indoor toilet, shower, and on-site laundry really drove home the point that poverty is inescapable.

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If you publish content to Patreon or are considering setting up an account with them, you may be wondering what kind of content is prohibited and if there are any hidden trigger words that can get you in trouble on the site.

I urge everyone to start by reading Patreon’s Terms of Use, Community Guidelines, and Benefit Guidelines. Then I’ll shed a some light on what’s not covered in Patreon’s public documentation.

What sparked this post? Well, when I went to upload Scrapyard Spiders, I received this message via a yellow notification box at the bottom of my draft.

“It looks like you might be promoting a raffle, which is outside of our Benefit Guidelines. Check out our blog post for more information, and email us if you have any questions.”

Wait… what?

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Cover of Ketcel by Chad Deal

Some stories are just that: stories. Simple. One dimensional. Easily digestible entertainment.

Some stories are much, much more than that. Some are complex conductive elements comprised of dozens of vibrant, glowing fibers, woven together specifically to guide us into the psychedelic cyberpunk future that might be.

Chad Deal’s Ketcel is the latter.

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