Critical Essays/Reviews

July 2022, by Grace Ximenez

Check out Grace’s review of the Rickie Talos anthology book, Rickie, HERE.

Cover painting for “Rickie”

October 2021, by Atom Mudman Bezecny

After reading the Talos Chronicle…

I awake, as though from a dream.

The last page sits before me, an incontrovertible conclusion. A death, as far as books are concerned. And yet, I wonder, how could it be? For that was only a beginning—a beginning which is its own end. Osiris, and his myth for a modern age. They live in us, in our hot, living blood. I realize I have been infected. From the glowing page, something has entered my substance, and I cannot help but wonder if somehow, the Seven Archons are reaching to me from beyond the golden veil…

It would only be fitting if R. Paul Sardanas was an agent of the Seven. Only their perverse, fantastic ritualism could have spawned something like this, this hexalogy of mythic sin. I’ve studied the occult through the greats—Arthur Machen, Alan Moore, Aleister Crowley, Grant Morrison—even the blasphemous ravings of William McGonagall. And I am a consistent visitor to the worlds of Philip José Farmer, with much of that time passed in the world of A Feast Unknown. But this is—

I must try to find the words. Even as I feel Their eyes on me, all fourteen. (Thirteen. I mustn’t forget the Old Man.)

IV. (Savages)

How could this all have been remade so perfectly?

Was he there? Was Sardanas there, standing opposite to Farmer? Did they know they were both there? Did they pass notes? “Oh, I have it that Tarzan jizzed all over the lion at about this point in the afternoon…” “Yes, and Monk and Ham’s words about Doc’s penis were something to this effect…” It’s a perfect replication. A perfect mirror. And yet also its own thing.

I knew Doc had a soul under all that muscle. It’s come out before, but never this naked, this raw. And even when I was a kid I knew all of that was due to his old bastard father. The ghost that he never escapes, alongside Maria the Saint, tombed up in cement. How poetically Freudian—of course all this began in 1933. That was when Sigmund was in his prime. Even Dent must have thought about the concept of the Dark Father.

If Lucas didn’t think of Clark Savage Sr. when he imagined Darth Vader, I’d be quite surprised.

My own ancestry is rising up against me. I can see my great-grandmother, for whom I was named. Her reflection replaces mine, and I see my dark eyes are dull compared to the gold flecks in hers.

I. & II. (Abyss & Alleys)

You know, as much as I care about Doc, especially after reading the Talos series, I’ve been looking forward to this. There’s a part of me that really savors these revelations, capitalizing on Farmer’s Whitechapel brilliance. Our Doc, Doc Savage, got off easy—his dad was just a minor crook. Not even a fifth of a Moriarty. But James Talos got screwed royal. No pun intended.

I really should have considered that Doc’s dad got around with Helen from Machen’s The Great God Pan. The Mrs. Vaughn of this universe is a much more feminist interpretation of Pan’s daughter than Machen goes for, but she’s a perfect way to demonstrate just how much it just makes sense for a well-off Victorian doctor to dabble in libertinism. It was, after all, the style of the time to seek out Scarlet Women, for practices both sexual and occult—as if there’s a difference. I have a lot of sympathy for libertines, generally, but given what this man would do to his son I can’t exactly feel bad for him that he fell down the path he did.

I suppose, though, that’s a chicken-and-the-egg sort of dilemma. Doc’s father created Doc the way he did because he was Jack the Ripper. But because he created Doc the way he did, I can’t help but take some schadenfreude in his descent into madness. That’s the sort of paradox I wind up with for being from the future.

And I thought the Claytons had it bad on the Fuwalda! I love Voyage Through Hell stories, in the literal sense, and this is one of them. That long trip to Africa made me forget that in our world, Doc and Tarzan live in separate continua. Because why wouldn’t Doc’s genesis be intrinsically tied up in Lord Greystoke’s? It’s right there in the name—his name is what Tarzan was created to be. And yet, this is only the beginning. Smart move, only letting us grasp the earliest motions, letting us think this is all madness and not for the achievement of something we take for granted. Ruha wasn’t lying when she was talking about the next step for humanity.

Strange how myth is both a thing of the future and the past. A yearning and a remembrance.

Out of the past, into my future, her reflection is getting stronger. She speaks my name, and I realize how deep the infection has gone.

III. (Towers)

Oh shit, this is getting really good!

“Getting”? It was already great, but now we’ve finally caught up with our heroes. And we get to learn how they made their deal with the Devil. I guess I never thought about that, how the Archons ensnared their two candidates—how terrifying it must have been, for them and their loved ones, to realize what they were about to say yes to. I’m an atheist, but when I was a little girl I was scared of saying something that would let the Devil take my soul. Deal with the Devil stories need to be terrifying, to show the lower depths of what damnation really is. This was it.

Poor Tarzan. Poor Jane.

Of course, it helps that the title, Towers, resonates with the Tarot imagery in the book. (Imagery—those paintings! I have not spoken of the paintings, but without them this world would not be the same. Infinite glory and horror and flavor within those mad, mad images. A toast to Bellerophon! I dream in those crazy colors now, hopefully forever.) If there’s one card in the Tarot I’m scared of, it’s the Tower—I fear it the way most people fear Death and the Devil. The Tower is destruction, terror, failure, and death. To draw it is to stand on the precipice of disaster.

Congrats, Mr. Sardanas. You evoked that fear perfectly.

“Do not fear,” the woman now tells me, from the glass. “Do not fear, because you bear my name. You chose it, in your quest through womanhood. And so I am with you always.”

It is reassuring.

V. (Passages)

Oh, my soul. My spirit. How could I have been moved this much by—by incest? I used to be so disturbed by Farmer’s insistence on having Doc and Pat get together. He hints at it in His Apocalyptic Life, saying they’d be the only two people truly perfect for each other; he puts them together in Feast, of course. And when Doc names his daughter for her, in Pemberley House, she grows up with an Electra complex. Something of a shallow assertion, I’ve felt, that they are the only two people on Earth beautiful enough for each other. But as time has passed, I’ve seen that they really complement each other, blood relations aside. Doc is so serious—Pat isn’t. Pat loves adventure—Doc gives it to her. They both look up to each other and share an even deeper friendship than the ones they have with the aides. And they’re fictional, in any case.

But now I understand Doc’s loneliness, and Pat’s too. Now, Pat is more part of the experiment than ever. She can’t escape it any more than Doc and his brother could. And so it must have been very comforting for her to find someone like him, who gave her relief in the course of immortal life.

This is where erotica diverges from porn—erotica is more concerned with the romance of sexuality than porn tends to be.

The golden waters of the Fear Cay. A hand-hold at the start of a grand adventure. It all comes together, evening out the horror.

Even as Maria the Saint commits the same vile deed which someone once did to me, I am not afraid. There’s too much magic here, and I feel a part of it. In that, I am protected.

My name echoes back to me: Atomica PATRICIA Safflina Mudman Bezecny. My silly affectation—no, I am allowed my own name. It reminds me of where I get my strength from. I feel, in the midst of things, I am allowed a brief indulgence.

VI. (Madonnas)

The potential here is boundless. Why have we never taken Doc into the future like this before?

Amazing how the world of the series is completely re-created and yet, it makes sense. Archetypal technologies are doubtlessly in our future—fiction creates reality, after all. All of this I can grasp pretty easily. Until I can’t.

But I do. I understand that the magic is the thing, the whole of it. The mystery cultists of old learned that the last mystery is that of mystery itself. This series has always been about the power of necromancy, and its power to transform the living along with the dead. At the pole of the world, a final dabbling in the occult unleashes something that only great science could create. Technopolis merges with the savage, and what is left is—

Well. I can’t name it, but it’s divine, anyway. Osiral.

And we’ve been reading about it since Dent and Burroughs first took up writing it. It has compelled us, and we’ve covered the world in idols of their holy images and liturgies to their sacred names. And they will not be forgotten in my lifetime.

Romance mixed with tragedy. Horror mixed with love. What a trip. I haven’t touched psychedelics since college, but it’s the same heady revelation. Great and Terrible, like another ’30s madman’s magic trick.

I looked now to the face of my great-grandmother, which has become my own. Patricia Talos. She smiles at me, and I urge her not to go.

“So long as you remember magic, I will be with you. As will all the others.”

Blind Guardian put it well, in “The Bard’s Song”: “In my thoughts, and in my dreams / they’re always in my mind…” I have been transformed, and yet I have merely conjured up old powers from the antiquity of my childhood.

I awake, as though from a dream.

Like many who’ve just gone tripping, I look forward to proselytizing.

Atom Mudman Bezecny

Atom Mudman Bezecny has been writing for over fifteen years and has no intent of stopping anytime soon. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s wanted to do what her heroes did, and flood libraries with her books. Born and raised in Minnesota, with a degree in English from the University of Morris, she is the author of many books, including The New Adventures of the Flash Avenger, Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike CrisisReturn of the Amazing BulkSo Be It…Desecrator, and others. She currently serves as the editor-in-chief at Odd Tales Productions, an independent publishing house.

Her movie review site can be visited at Atom Mudman’s A-List.

You can support Atom also on her Patreon.

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