Flash Impressions: Death Masks (book 5 of the Dresden Files)

Happy Saturday!

death mask cover

Summary

It’s impressive how Butcher seems to create an increasingly big story whilst maintaining a very episodic format which is making these summary sections equally increasingly intimidating however here’s the simplest version:

A Story: The war with the Red Court vampires continues

B Story: Dresden is hired by a vatican priest to find the death shroud of jesus (meme of jesus face on toast “It’s kinda like this but not edible.”)
C Story: Murphy consults Dresden about a man who died from all the diseases. At the same time.

Thoughts

(***spoilers ahead, duh***)

So this entire time I’ve been using my go to reference site, wikipedia, whilst completely ignoring the fandom site Dresden Files Wikia.

dresden wikidresden wikia

The plot on wikia is much more comprehensive, good for me since I have short memory, and the “new plot points” feature is really brilliant for keeping track of important events and when they happened.   

This might be me not being as observant from the beginning however it seems like Butcher is getting really pro at pacing by using the A, B, C story formats and introducing each story line in as many chapters.  However I can’t decide whether having the A story run parallel but relatively separate to the intertwined B and C stories is a strength or not but it does work to make the story feel so much bigger whilst at the same time helping keep the episodic storytelling format.(1)

We finally meet the other two knights of the cross, I believe it is mentioned before this book that there is a knight for each nail from the cross (2 for the hands + 1 for the feet = 3 holy swords) which makes for an interesting piece of lore building and by the end sets up the possibility for Butters to become the next knight (as per skin game).  I personally think that Sonya’s sword, Esperacchius or the sword of hope,(2) and back story of being an atheist and former Denarian (a possessor of one of the 30 silver coins, each represents a fallen angel en service to Nicodemus)(3) may prove an interesting potential parallel for Dresden, now that by then of the book he posses one of the coins and is taking a noticeable darker turn in his character (it’s light in this book but I will point out the more details in later books where it has become so stark that it’s striking).

Speaking of parallels, there has been some interesting parallels drawn between Dresden and Marcone from the beginning.  Part of me sees them as balance characters in the way Batman and The Joker are, as in even the “good one” is still a vigilante psychopath enacting justice at his personal discretion with little-to-no oversight(4), where they

batman joker

I think I’m still somewhere in between Puberty and Adulthood.

contrast each other in their methods however hold the same core values. Batman and The Joker: One bad day can change everything for a person; Dresden and Marcone: Do no harm to children. However part of me sees the seeds of darkness growing in Dresden and as the series progresses there are an increasing number of times where Dresden saves Marcone and vice versa or (my personal favourite) Dresden and Marcone work together against a big bad because it suits both of their interests (even if their interests are not mutually shared) which both happens at the climax of this book leading to my favourite Dresden/Marcone scene (roughly paraphrased):

“Michael attacks Nicodemus. Dresden to Marcone: So what’s the plan? Wait for Michael to distract Nicodemus and shoot Nicodemus in the back? Marcone to Dresden: Yup.”

Whilst I’m on the subject of Marcone, it is interesting to FINALLY see why he was after the Death Mask (he lays it on a young child in a hospital across town whom we later learn was a kid caught in the crossfire of him and a rival gang leading to his “no children” policy) which begins to humanise Marcone.  I personally really like Marcone and want to see more of his character in the series because I believe there’s so much more to his character that’s still a mystery.

The rest of my thoughts are kinda miscellaneous:

-we first meet Nicodemus and he will appear every fifth book (apparently)

-I guess Susan is knocked up during the rather erotic bondage-ish scene in Dresden’s apartment after the brush with the Denarians at the Art Show because by Changes we learn that Dresden has a daughter with Susan.

-the battle at Wriggly field was confusing because I thought Ortega pulled his gun first and that Kincaid saw that he was cheating and shot him but it was actually Martin which may be a homage to the whole “Did Hon Solo shoot first?” debate seeing how often Dresden references Star Wars or it could be because I’m listening to them as audiobooks and mostly listening to them at work and misinterpreted the entire thing. Either way it was a really cool fucking scene.

-Dresden has a denarian coin buried under the concrete of his sub-basement which I thought was going to play a much more minor part in the story however in the future books Butcher has made it clear that that isn’t a “remember this for later” detail but plays a regular and active role in the next few books(5)

Conclusion

This series keeps getting better.  It’s kind of weird. I keep expecting Butcher to “cap out” at some point but every time I finish a book I’m like “fuck that was great, how does it get better?” and then it does.  I’m trying to wrap my brain around it without building up unrealistic expectations (I mean I really had serious concerns about this after the events of the next book: Blood Rites).  

That being said: tune in for my flash impression of Blood Rites or my alternative title: “Puppies, Porn Stars, and Vampires”

-fin

Footnotes:

  1. This is in contrast to many of the fantasy series I’ve read, which I make no claims to be an extremely well read fantasy lit fan (Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, The Engineer’s Trilogy, is all I can name off the top of my head), where each book feels less like an episode in the series and more a direct continuation of the story as if the entire series could be a single book if that was a publishing possibility.  
  2. Michael wields Amoracchius or the sword of love and Shiro wields Fidelacchius or the sword of faith.  
  3. There are 30 coins to represent the 30 pieces of silver Judas was paid to betray Jesus which at the time was about 5 weeks worth of pay or adjusted for inflation about 30-cent-judas-sells4200 USD. (source: Mark Harrison, IT Consultant, once and future CTO answering, “How much were the 30 pieces of silver Judas received to betray Jesus worth in today’s money?” at www.quora.com) Like seriously, I’m not a Christian but Judas is a dumb bastard because he could have asked for way more fucking money.  It was like he accepted a particularly small sum just to be a jackass.  However I guess if there were like 1200 Denarian coins, that would put Dresden in a really hot spot. 
  4. I guess the Police or the Justice League are that universe’s form of “oversight” for Batman and other more questionable DC super heroes however how much power does the Justice League have over Batman when he has a secret dossier on each member which includes a detailed plan on how to kill them and similar problems with the police as in they don’t know his secret identity and even if they did Bruce Wayne is so fucking rich he probably already has a small army of lawyers on retainer to prevent any sort of “police crackdown” on the Batman anyway.  
  5. I’ve been having trouble with laptops lately (I’m on number 5 in 3 weeks), which makes me worry that maybe reading the Dresden Files is aggravating my natural technological Murphian Field (I am not intentionally rough on phones and laptops and computers however they have historically had less than a friendly relationship to me, as in I cannot keep a phone or laptop alive for longer than a year. However phones have been getting better, I recently had a phone for 2 whole years but laptops still tend to crap out on right around month 12-15). You know what they say though, “Fifth is a fucking charm.” Anyway my intention was to write one of these after I finish each book however I’m almost finished with book 8 “Proven Guilty” as of today (8 september 2018).      
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Stream of Consciousness Theatre presents: First Try

Happy Monday!

life

I’m often plagued with the phrase “If you can’t find the time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it a second time?” reinforced by Jack Kerouac’s philosophy of “first thought, best thought”

“By not revising what you’ve already written you simply give the reader the actual workings of your mind during the writing itself: you confess your thoughts about events in your own unchangeable way. Well, look, did you ever hear a guy telling a long wild tale to a bunch of men in a bar and all are listening and smiling, did you ever hear that guy stop to revise himself, go back to a previous sentence to improve it, to defray its rhythmic thought impact? If he pauses to blow his nose, isn’t he planning his next sentence? And when he lets that next sentence loose, isn’t it once and for all the way he wanted to say it? Doesn’t he depart from the thought of that sentence and, as Shakespeare says, ‘forever holds his tongue’ on the subject, since he’s passed over it like a part of a river that flows over a rock once and for all and never returns and can never flow any other way in time? Incidentally, as for my bug against periods, that was for the prose in October in the Railroad Earth – very experimental, intended to clack along all the way like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talky caboose at the end. That was my way at the time and it still can be done if the thinking during the swift writing is confessional and pure and all excited with the life of it. And be sure of this, I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and it got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no feeling. Goddamn it, feeling is what I like in art; not craftiness and the hiding of feelings.”

-Kerouac on “first though, best though” Source: I Fear Brooklyn

and legendary achievements such as the SF short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” which was not only written in one sitting/one draft but also went on to win a Hugo Award.  My experience as a cook hasn’t taught me any different, “You have to be perfect the first time, every time because we don’t have time for a second chance” as many of my chefs have told me over the years which became something I came to resent about the industry but made an imprint on how I shape my self as a creator.

I frequently feel like a man running out of time, being out of step with people of my generation and off the beaten path for what constitutes a reasonable existence, approaching thirty with next to nothing to show for myself other than a collection of scar tissue and a creative interpretation on the conventions of grammar and syntax.

I think frequently though about Kerouac’s process, regardless of his claim to write On the Road in one draft, more specifically one 120 foot long scroll he constructed to feed into his typewriter so he could write continuously, but his process was longer than that.  Longer than 120 feet and longer than the three weeks it took him to cover that roll in ink.

His idea was to capture the improvisation of the jazz musician, to create something so raw but right that the first time it comes into being it’s presentable. As Wachowaik criticizes in her dissertation Speed Limits: The Formation, Dissemination, and Dissolution of the Counterculture in American Literature 1951-1972.”

Though Kerouac projected the belief that both great writing and great jazz improvisations should be “simply realized without the thought process of the creator intervening,” he conveniently glossed over the process of the jazz musician, which involves years of study, rehearsal, and revision to produce effective “improvisation” (Elteren 87). In reality, Kerouac spent years perfecting his “spontaneous” tone, often jotting down personality sketches and stock phrases in his notebook that would find their way into his books (87).

Source

She highlights how Kerouac, like the skilled jazz improvisation artist, practiced and conceptualized his art long before ingesting eye ball vibrating amounts of coffee and speed in April 1951.  In this way, it can be said he drafted for seven years while rambling the country the same way a musician can said to be practicing even when they’re just tip-tapping.  A healthy regimen of regular writing and reading keeps the mind sharp so that when the time comes to write, it can be done with clear efficiency.

There is also an ethic to this approach, the school of minimal editing, in that the less drafts a piece takes, just like perfect plating the first time, the more warmth there is left in the final product.  My personal goal, someday, is to write a novel in the first try (in a 5×5 quad composition notebook, black ink, hand written) however I imagine it’ll go something like this:

 

Zombie Road (Urban Legends #1)

I just finished binge watching the first season of the Netflix original Stranger Things (SPOILER ALERT: It’s fantastic however unless your further out of the loop than I am, like the Zombie Road area(1), you’ve probably already seen it and are thinking “My carby goodness(2), Fin. How are you so behind?”) and it got me thinking about my own encounters with the paranormal and ask most St Lousians about the subject and they’re likely to mention either Lemp Mansion (another story, for another time) or Zombie Road.

The infamous Zombie Road (formerly the Lawl Ford Road, now apart of the Al Foster Trail) has gotten notoriety since the 50’s as a “creepy little hang out in the woods” however there’s a lot of good reasons why the little road is creepy as hell at night.  One being that there is like no light back there.  On a full moon night, you might be able to see the shadow of the tree line which is cool as all get out since light pollution is making it increasingly hard to find places where one can really understand palpable darkness, since experiencing darkness that thick I can appreciate a healthy fear of the dark.   Another reason the place gives me the fantods is all the death.  There have been several recorded incidents of suicide, people being run down by trains, people falling in the river, and one particularly strange incident in the 70’s where a teenager boy lost his footing and got caught on a fork shaped branch on his fall to his demise.  The forked branch managed to rip his face and scalp off leaving behind a grotesque mask.  Top it all off, there are stories about run away mental patients, dead barge works roaming as zombies, sightings of human shadows in the woods, vengeful Native American spirits (it’s believed to originally be a trail used by Native American peoples and when the Pacific Railroad company came through it likely didn’t end well for the Natives).

Naturally, being an (increasingly) rebellious boy and growing up in the dreadfully dull West County (much of it is the picture of suburbia) there wasn’t much to do OTHER than investigate places like Zombie road.  However, now it’s gotten much riskier with the cops issuing up to 1,000$ trespassing tickets now. I guess kids have Pokemon Go now, but think of all the Ghost type Pokemon you could capture down there!  Anyway, one night me and a friend decided to go explore and see for ourselves what Zombie Road had to offer.

I don’t remember much now, ten years later, but I do remember getting down there and walking for a good 20 minutes not really hearing anything or feeling anything unusual until we decided to leave.  As soon as I said, “Man, this is kind of lame.  Lets go.”  both my friend and I heard a deep WHOMP.  Similar to the sound of a grocery bag full of ground red meat and water exploding on the ground.  This got our attention.  So we decided to continue further down and we heard an extremely loud/deep hammering into the ground.  As if someone was repeatedly dropping a giant tamper and the sound was getting closer.  We kind of got wigged out by this point and decided to make our way out when I was assaulted by what I can only assume was a bat in the face.

baseball bat

Not a bat.

bat man

Not the bat.

bat

A bat.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve pissed my pants literally, sober and intoxicated, many times in my adult life.  This wasn’t one of the incidents, but it’s an honourable mention.  After that was a blur of running through the pitch black back to the car.  That was the last time I went to Zombie Road, day or night.

Have any good Urban Legend experiences to share? Feel free to leave a comment below explaining your encounter with the esoteric.

 

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Footnotes:

  1. This is a really bad local-vernacular based joke, “the loop” generally refers to a trendy St Louis attraction The Delmar Loop and I live, currently (I move a lot, on average 1.1 moves per year), in the Webster Groves area and further “out of the loop” would be Zombie Road aka the Al Foster Trail all the way out in Wildwood which is in the dreadful West County area.
  2. Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM)