a poem from The Black Riders

by Stephen Crane

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page.
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

also this odd one unrelated to the above:

A man feared that he might find an assassin;
Another that he might find a victim.
One was more wise than the other.

8. The Chrysalids

by John Wyndham

This was a great 1955 sci fi book about young man and his friends who live in a close-knit community of religious fundamentalists bent on genetic purification as a way of "getting back" to a state of perfection as it was for the Old People before a devastating nuclear war.  Their new religious dogma, which includes intolerance of any genetic abnormality (a sixth toe, for example), leads to a closed, fearful society that is always on the watch for pretty much anything different.

Our hero, David, and a small group of his friends share a remarkable secret, one that, if discovered, would lead to their destruction at the hands of the community.  Abnormal plants are destroyed.  Abnormal livestock are destroyed.  Abnormal adolescents are destroyed.  The community is ever-dilligent in their efforts to rid itself of anything that deviates from "the norm of God's creation".

David and his friends come to realize that they too are deviants as they possess telepathic powers that would surely get them "eradicated" if ever detected.  These powers, however, can also lead to unimagined freedom for them... if they can escape to the Fringes.

As it is with a great deal of post-WWII fiction, The Chrysalids is a condemnation of Nazism and an exploration of the potential of humanity after the war.  Clearly, nukes play their role in both creating awesome physical and psychic pain worldwide, but in the sci fi genre the same nuclear event is seen as creating a sort of second chance for humanity as well.  I especially like this novel because it warns of the dangers of  religious and scientific dogma that argue that there is a certain human who is "perfect" and defined by those in power at the time.

Good stuff and a fun adventure.

7. The Undiscovered Self

by Carl Jung

All of Jung's concerns are with individual liberty. Reading this little book was somewhat of a spiritual and intellectual revival for me. That always happens with this guy's work.

Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but the fatally shortsighted habit of our age is to think only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world had seen more than enough of what a well-disciplined mob can do in the hands of a single madman. Unfortunately, this realization does not seem to have penetrated very far--and our blindness is this respect is extremely dangerous. People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest slogans...

...Curiously enough, the churches too want to avail themselves of mass action in order to cast out the devil with Beelzebub--the very churches whose care is the salvation of the individual soul. They too do not appear to have heard anything of the elementary axiom of mass psychology, that the individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass, and for this reason they do not burden themselves overmuch with their real task of helping the individual to achieve metanoia, or re-birth of the spirit. It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption. I can therefore see it only as a delusion when the churches try--as they apparently do--to rope the individual into a social organization and reduce him to a condition of diminished responsibility, instead of raising him out of torpid, mindless mass and making clear to him that he is the one important factor...

Oh, fun. He goes on to remind the reader of what happened to Jesus and Paul, prototypes of individuality, when they went their own individual ways, disregarding public opinion.

Here's a challenge:Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself. Or, to put it more simply: drive or drift. Drive or drift. I like that problem.

Finally: To this question there is a positive answer only when the individual is willing to fulfill the demands of rigorous self-examination and self-knowledge. If he follows through his intention, he will not only discover some important truths about himself, but will also have gained a psychological advantage: he will have succeeded in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest.

Anyway, it was 125 pages of Jungian challenge. Loved it.

Salem's Lot

by Steven King

I thought this was going to be a re-read, but it turns out I had never read this one. What a great book! As is typical King, the setting is a small isolated town in Maine that falls prey to incredible evil. This time: vampires, and not the Twilight clowns. These vampires are the ones from our childhood nightmares.

You know the aging adage: today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality? Well, what if today's horror were to be tomorrow's reality? Well, after reading Salem's lot I have one reason to support the Catholic Church, or at least the mass production of their relics!

Here's a fun excerpt of early King meta-fiction. An aging, single guy climbs the stairs of his own house to confront whatever hellish phenom is in an upstairs bedroom.

Going up there stairs was the hardest thing Matt Burke had ever done in his life. That was all; that was it. Nothing else even came close. Except perhaps one thing.

As a boy of eight, he had been in a Cub Scout pack. The den mother’s house was a mile up the road and going was fine, yes, excellent, because you walked in the late afternoon daylight. But coming home twilight had begun to fall, freeing the shadows to yawn across the road in long, twisty patterns—or, if the meeting was particularly enthusiastic and ran late, you had to walk home in the dark. Alone.

Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym…

There was a ruined church along the way, an old Methodist meeting house, which reared its shambles at the far end of a frost-heaved and hummocked lawn, and when you walked past the view of it’s glaring, senseless windows your footsteps became very loud in your ears and whatever you had been whistling died on your lips and you thought about how it must be inside—the overturned pews, the rotting hymnals, the crumbling altar where only mice now kept the Sabbath, and you wondered what might be in there besides mice—what madmen, what monsters. Maybe they were peering out at you with yellow reptilian eyes. And maybe one night watching would not be enough; maybe some night that splintered, crazily hung door would be thrown open, and what you saw standing there would drive you to lunacy at one look.

And you couldn’t explain that to your mother and father, who were creatures of the light. No more than you could explain to them how, at the age of three, the spare blanket at the foot of the crib turned into a collection of snakes that lay staring at you with flat and lidless eyes. No child ever conquers those fears, he thought. If a fear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered. And the fear locked in small brains are much too large to pass through the orifice of the mouth. Sooner or later you found someone to walk past all the deserted meeting houses you had to pass between grinning babyhood and grunting senility. Until tonight. Until tonight when you found out that none of those old fears had been staked—only tucked away in their tiny, child-sized coffins with a wild rose on top.

He didn’t turn on the light. He mounted the steps, one by one, avoiding the sixth, which creaked. He held on to the crucifix, and his palm was sweaty and slick…

He hits on so many of our worst nightmares in this two pages. Despite being a somewhat solid adult I still have those fears that well up and wash over my otherwise rational mind. For me, never in the city. Always among buildings in rural areas. So this was a fun read.