mangledmeatThe stories are mostly good, but this is a weird product from an editing and packaging standoint.

It has random-ass stock cover art that has nothing to with any of the stories (an almost obligatory feature of small press books), stories that don’t really make sense with each other, and a blurb on the back promising three “short novels”. Mangled Meat‘s first “novel” is 21 pages long, the second “novel” 31 pages long, and the third “novel” is 51 pages long, so yes, these are short novels. Maybe Deadite Press will publish the dot that I used to finish my last sentence and call it a “short vignette.”

“The Decortication Technician” stands out like a cockroach on a wedding cake. It has no gore or sex, but it manages to evoke a Ray Bradbury sense of wonder. In the far future, a man must dissect an alien that is like nothing he’s seen before. The writing is sometimes clunky and graceless, but it manages to create a believable futuristic world in 20 pages, and I enjoyed the big reveal at the end. To spoil it a bit, it’s like the ending of Anthony Boucher’s “The Quest for Saint Aquin” reversed. This story is good stuff.

“The Cyesolagniac” is about a guy who fancies pregnant women, and how his fetish lands him in hot water (figuratively and literally, unfortunately). Disgusting in places, and has a cute ending. I didn’t like how Lee tries to make a boring and run-of-the-mill fetish sound like the most taboo thing in the world. “Heyton sat in the chair with his pants down. A glance across the squalid room revealed his pitiful reflection in the mirror: a ludicrous caricature. The magazine shook in his hands. If my dear dead parents could see me now…” You’d think the guy liked fiddling kids or something.

“Room 415” is about a well-meaning beta male who has been cheated on, and now finds himself unable to get an erection unless he sees women being hurt. He falls in with a crooked pimp and a retinue of high-priced escorts, with nasty results. There’s some fun gore porn at the end, but I found the story to be a long car ride for a short day at the beach: long and slow, and the payoff at the end isn’t worth it. There’s lots of overly-detailed description of luscious tits and asses spilling out of translucent lingerie, etc – I get the sense that Lee was typing the story one-handed. Apparently this is the “nice” version of the story, and there’s an alternate version somewhere with a far darker and more misanthropic end.

Mangled Meat is an interesting collection. It doesn’t take more than twenty minutes to read, so it could be worthwhile if you find it cheap somewhere. The first story is the best and the last story is the worst, but they’re all at least somewhat readable. It’s not really what it was advertised as, but I could see myself reading more of Edward Lee’s short s…er, novels.

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diceWhen a dice flies, it bears seven fates on its vectors. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Or you can slam a bowl over the dice, and never know.

People choose the seventh option every day. It’s easy to throw a dice, or throw a stone, or fire a gun, if you don’t have to look at the consequences. The worst development in all of war was when we found a way to kill over a distance. Once, killing meant committing violence against a tangible body. Now, you can do it without thinking or knowing or caring or understanding.

Seeing is a gift, but gifts are more trouble than they’re worth sometimes. It’s easier sometimes to not see, to look in a dark corner and be blind, or to have a thought and not follow it through it its conclusion.

Let me tell of a man who rolled the dice and couldn’t look.

Shaka Zulu was a 19th century Zulu king who won a kingdom and defended it against enemies black and white. He was successful on the battlefield and plagued by witch doctors at home.

The Zulu held shamans in high regard as a class of lawyer priests. It was customary for shamans to receive half of a convicted man’s property, and they grew overfond of accusing wealthy people of crimes so as to share in their wealth.

One day, the actions of a particular witch exceeded Zulu’s patience, and he decided to punish her.

He imprisoned her in a hut and – because she claimed a hyena as her familiar – he put a fully grown male hyena in the hut with her before barring the door. He did not wish her to be lonely.

Hyenas are not timid scavenging animals. When hungry, they are dangerous predators. Snarls and barks came from inside the hut. The people in the kraal heard these sounds, and knew that a king’s vengeance was underway.

But then there was silence. No more snarls and barks. No sound at all came from inside the hut. The beast was quiet, and Shaka’s subjects whispered as to the meaning of this.

A few days later, Shaka ordered the hut burned down. He did not want the door opened, or for anyone to look inside. Flames devoured the hut with a million sucking mouths, and the secret inside was lost to history.

Behind Shaka’s back, there were whispers.

He’d been afraid.

Afraid of the hut being opened.

Afraid of seeing the hyena lying in the witch’s arms, sucking on her nipples. So he’d set the hut to burn. He threw the dice, and then turned his eyes away.

That this is the right way is hard to accept. Walking around with one’s eyes shut seems dangerous. You might fall into a hole in the ground.

But there’s a hole in the ground waiting for you anyway. There’s one waiting for all of us, and it will take everyone, blind and seeing alike. But you don’t have to think about that, if you don’t want to.

Please be blind.

Please don’t look.

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madmaxLarge numbers of movies get released and make no money. The traditional indie counter-manoeuvre is to spend no money making the movie in the first place.

Mad Max was such a movie, and the result is a classic. The series really finds its voice with The Road Warrior, but the first one is good, too – an edgy and stylish movie that combines a peak oil-induced apocalypse with Australian muscle car culture.

The setting is familiar, and the Mad Max franchise made it that way. Civilisation is winding down due to depleted fuel reserves, and road gangs have turned the roads into battlefields. Max Rockatansky is an officer in the collapsing house of cards that is the local police force, and he’s getting uncomfortably happy with the violence his job requires. When a fellow officer is burned alive in an ambush, he begins a transformation into a vigilante who doesn’t just throw away the rulebook, he does wheelies over it with his supercharged Pursuit Special.

After an energetic opening scene that hurls cars around and showcases the series’ love of outrageous trash talk (Ayatolla of Rock and Rolla, etc), Max hits its stride: a gritty and atmospheric movie with solid writing and acting. Considering the budget, the action scenes are impressive and occasionally spectacular – but the thing that really brings this movie together is the characters.

Gibson is particularly good. He’s calm, but it’s a calm that makes you uncomfortable. He seems like a benign cloud cell that could mutate into a hurricane. He doesn’t overact – far from it, he’s usually quieter than he needs to be. But he has a strange power over the screen, and his quietness is part of what makes the final scene so chilling.

There’s a bunch of crazy desperadoes with ridiculous names like Mudguts and Toecutter, and they’re also handled with a nuance that isn’t typical in this kind of movie. I like how Nightrider goes from insane tirades to tears, and Johnny tries to escape Max’s vengeance by claiming mental problems. The villains have a nice bit of…humanity, which reminds us that Max himself might not be too far behind.

Max isn’t perfect. As an emotional experience it has an odd plateau-like quality, and it lacks a big epic scene like the road chase of the second movie or the Thunderdome battle of the third. The music hasn’t aged too well. Mad Max has an ill-fitting jaunty score that makes me think of Adam West punching out bad guys with “WHAM!” and “POW!” appearing on the screen.

But the movie is still impressive for what it is. Few films do so much with so little money (imagine if Blair Witch had car stunts), and it’s influence etc cannot be overstated. The odd thing about Max is that you’ve witnessed its spirit even if you haven’t seen the movie, because so many of its ideas have seeped into the work of other directors.

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