Sunday, March 5, 2017

Catskinner's Book: Chapters 1-4

James Ozryck works in a hardware store that's a front for his actual job: contract killer. His alternate personality, or whatever the brutal Catskinner in his mind actually is, gives him special talents and urges that railroad James into killing. It's not much of a life, but it offers some control over Catskinner's excesses. Soon after his boss gives him a new contract, a woman dressed like a Berkeley professor burst into the store, and asks who James is...and who else he might be. James ushers her out of the store before Catskinner can express his displeasure through more visceral means. Later that night, Catskinner is unleashed on the subject of James' contract.

The next day, the academic returns with friends, and orders James to look at an index card. The image, four Hebrew letters in a diamond, fixes him to the spot, even as he hears the intruders kill his boss behind him. Finally tearing himself free of the enchantment, James despairs, contemplated suicide by cop, but Catskinner has other plans: murder and revenge.

As James moves his stuff out of the soon to be torched storefront, he starts collecting clues. These lead his to another store that is a front, the tanning salon Land of Tan. James breaks into the store and finds a woman tanning. Catskinner warns that she is not entirely human - or female.

The girl's name is Godiva, and her strange eyes and lack of teeth drive home Catskinner's warning. She takes a liking to James and a revulsion to Catskinner. Abandoned by whoever was keeping her in the Land of Tan, she gives James a name and an address for the woman who killed James' boss, Dr. Klein. Godiva asks if James will kill Dr. Klein, and wants to help.


In his Castalia House interview, Misha Burnett said, "I feel that the medium has to be prosaic, even pedestrian, in order to deliver a fantastic message. If I describe a man, I can use flowery language and quirky grammar, but if I describe a man with wings I have to use language that is concrete and down to Earth." We get a taste in of this from the beginning, where James's store is described in rather mundane terms before revealing the true reason for its existence. Burnett's technique is another application of contrast. But where C. L. Moore would use it in characterization, he uses it in description.

While Jon spoiled what Catskinner is in our first post of the month, the misdirection in these first chapters is well thought out. Originally thought of as an alternate personality, what Catskinner is shifts to something more demonic as the Seal of Solomon - those strange Hebrew letters - has an effect on him. Solomon and his seal have long been featured in alchemical and demonology works. This esoterica also shades what Godiva might be, as her openness about sex and physical strangeness bring to mind a succubus. (Or perhaps I've been watching too much /x/ Files (really NSFW).) However, as the truth is already out there, I look forward to seeing how the truth will develop.

I typically find New Wave writers to be better essayists than fiction writers. This is no shame to their science fiction, as these essays by Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock are outstanding, especially on the nature of writing and storytelling. Misha is already an excellent essayist, as his Five Pillars of Pulp Revival is a founding document of the ongoing Pulp Revolution. His work on other genres is just as insightful. So the big question is, will Catskinner's Book buck the trend? Right now, Catskinner's Book reminds me of Ellison's Mephisto in Onyx, which is promising.


Next time: "Hi there. My imaginary friend wants to skin you alive."

1 comment:

  1. I believe that the New Wave mindset encourages a certain degree of awareness of fiction as an artificial construct. There is a self-referential undercurrent. That lends itself better to essays than to fiction, truth be told.

    It can lead to some very involuted forms in fiction--such as Philip Dick the character speaking directly to the audience and explaining why he is writing Horselover Fat as another character in "VALIS".

    It can be light-hearted,such as the story within the story in George Alec Effinger's "What Entropy Means To Me", or very heavy-handed as in some of the thinly veiled rants to the reader in John Brunner's work. Taken to extremes it can lead to the attempt to break the fourth wall by such techniques as (W S) Burrough's "cut up" or the typography of the Palimpsest section of Delany's "Dhalgren".

    For my own part, I have always tried to keep fiction and essay separate and avoid epistemological digressions when I am trying to tell a story. I suppose my readers are the ones who can judge to what extent I've succeeded.