State of Fear: Excellent New Short Story Collection

State of Fear - Paul BibeauPaul Bibeau has a new collection of short stories, State of Fear. It’s 99¢ on the Kindle, and worth quite a lot more than every penny.

It’s easy to be disappointed by Paul Bibeau. After all, most people discovered him from things like I Was Shitting You People — A Message From Ayn Rand and “Help Me Hide These Bodies” By Willy Wonka. They are laugh-out-loud funny stories, so you figure that he’s a comedy writer. And then you pick up The Black Book Of Children’s Bible Stories or Trump Tales Of Terror, and you discover a very different writer.

I remember when I first got The Black Book. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. But I was soon won over by its clear, exacting style and implied horror. Bibeau is not a writer to jump out at you and yell, “Boo!” His approach is to inject you with a slow-acting neurotoxin until you’re afraid to move. He combines the Victorian ghost story’s precision with a postmodern sensibility. The writer and reader are partners. Bibeau rarely comes right out and tells you anything. He renders. What Anaïs Nin was for erotica, Paul Bibeau is for horror.

State of Fear

State of Fear is not horror. It’s much worse than that. The stories are about isolation. More specifically, they are about how isolation and fear feed each other. I’ve written before about watching schizophrenics and how terrified they are so much of the time because they just don’t know where the inside and the outside meet. Bibeau captures that sense fully. Mostly, he is fine with leaving it to the reader to decide what the reality is. This is most true of the highlight of this collection, “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.”

In that story, Charles “Charlie” Franck is a government interrogator — torturer, actually. And he snaps. Or does he? The truth is that not knowing is what makes the story so chilling. It’s also what makes it profound, because it doesn’t matter. Is there a vast conspiracy to keep us all at war with each other? Or does our civilization drive us all mad?

How are you going to get me to murder more than 300 people at the Lakeview Mall? That’s what I thought.

But the prisoner hadn’t said “Lakeview Mall.” He’d talked about an unnamed shopping center, and mentioned a nearby parking garage. And I’d immediately sketched out a picture in my mind of the shopping center that I would pick. If I did it.

Bibeau’s Thematic Clarity

It’s pretty clear where Paul Bibeau comes down on the question of the actual reality, however. He deals with the question more directly in, “The American Terror.” It is half essay and half narrative. The essay focuses on The Trial as well as Václav Havel’s experiences in communist Czechoslovakia. The narrative tells the story of a man trying to find his way to court on his bicycle for a minor matter, which literally becomes more grave as he cycles. It reminded me of Robert Cormier’s novel, I Am the Cheese, but in this endless bike ride, the world presses down harder and harder on the cyclist, and we know that his end will be the same as that of Josef K.

I could go on and on. Every story is a winner. “The Exceptions Virus” chronicles of spread of fear and isolation, but in the Bibeau world where the external and internal intersect in a most discomfiting way. Even when Bibeau is being blunt, as in “The Dream Wayne LaPierre Has Every Night,” the results are chilling. And the book ends with a poem, “Thanks for the Last and Greatest Betrayal…” It’s a history lesson — a reminder of who we are. But it’s also a prophecy: describing our dead future where all that is left are our Hollywood fantasies, beaming through space: “only ghosts and aliens will watch it go.”

State of Fear is very much worth checking out. It’s short — just 54 Kindle pages. But it’s easily worth ten times its 99¢ asking price. It gave me chills at least a dozen times.

Matt Lauer’s Incompetence at the NBC Forum

Matt LauerSo last night was the NBC‘s Commander-in-Chief Forum or really, to quote Trump, “you know what” show. It was hosted by Matt Lauer, because NBC apparently couldn’t find anyone even more incompetent. It was exactly what Paul Krugman was complaining about last week, “But it’s hard to escape the impression that [Trump’s] being graded on a curve.” That’s because he is.

I watched the disaster and had a few thoughts. The principle thing I took from the forum was that it was way too short. The military, for good or bad, is massively complex. A discussion of it requires the time to give insightful answers. But NBC gave a half hour to each candidate. That was bad for Clinton because she has, you know, actual policy ideas. It was great for Trump who can always bluster his way through a half hour — especially when interviewed by a lightweight like Matt Lauer.

Clinton’s Half Hour

Of Clinton’s half hour, a full third of it was dedicated to her email. No one who follows actual news cares about this. She has apologized for using a private server, said it was a bad idea, and blah blah blah. Asked and answered. Yet the media keeps harping on it. What have we learned? Nothing. It’s all insinuation.

Having wasted all that time did not stop Matt Lauer, who was clearly in over his head, from constantly interrupting Clinton for the rest of the time as she tried to answer actually important questions.  (I’m also tired of her being asked yet again about her Iraq War vote; why is “old news” a concept that applies to everyone except Hillary Clinton?)

Matt Lauer: Only Interested in Trivialities

One gentleman asked about the VA and the problems that have plagued the agency. Clinton confirmed that she will work on it weekly as President. And then she discussed specific things that she wanted to work on.

Another question was about ISIS. She briefly touched the fact that dealing with ISIS required a multifaceted approach. This included asking other Muslim countries to help us. Matt Lauer, apparently sensing the seriousness of the issue, cut her off before she could go into details.

There were a few other questions that Matt Lauer found necessary to interrupt on. This got to the point where Clinton had to tell him to let her finish.

Once again these are serious issues that need addressing. And no, I don’t think a detailed policy plan is sufficient. It is great to have, but questions should be asked so she can give us more of a sense of how she will be as commander-in-chief. Questions were asked. It’s just that Matt Lauer wasn’t really interested in the answers.

Trump’s Half Hour

Oh dear, God: where to start? 

When he said he wanted to take all of Iraq’s oil because to the victor go the spoils?

Or when he said he thought there should be a military justice system to address rape?

Perhaps when he said that Putin was awesome and had great ratings in Russia?

Or when he said that Clinton was in charge of the military responses in Iraq along with Obama despite the Secretary of State’s not deciding military policy?

Or maybe when he said he was going to fire all of the generals?

The Stupid Half Hour

This was a half hour of the stupidest commenting on the military that I’ve ever seen. It was probably the stupidest ever. It was ill informed and traitorous and just plan horrible. And it was an embarrassment to the entire US political system that a man as ignorant as Donald Trump could be the presidential candidate of a major political party.

Trump lied twice in the first ten minutes of the forum. Matt Lauer, in keeping with his usual high level of incompetence, did not call Trump on either. Trump claimed his running a business and “calling the shots” was sufficient for him to run the US military. He then claimed that his trip to Mexico was a success.  It was not. It actually led to one of his scariest speeches to date.

Trump couldn’t answer most questions he was asked. So he blustered through them. Matt Lauer, of course, allowed him to. Trump again made the claim that he was against the Iraq War, when it is well documented that he was for it — both before and then after. Intrepid reporter Matt Lauer did not counter him on this lie that Trump tells again and again and again.

The Conclusion

So naturally the media is going to say since Donald Trump didn’t drop his pants and urinate on the floor, he was “presidential.” And even if they don’t, what the people saw was Matt Lauer making a very big deal out of Clinton’s email, as though it is really important and indicates something really bad, even if it is never stated. And they saw Matt Lauer allow Donald Trump to say outrageous things — and outright lies — without countering them.

Earlier yesterday, Brian Beutler explained well what liberals are concerned about, “The overarching expectation isn’t that the press should campaign for Clinton or help her escape scrutiny, but that they resist the urge to normalize Trump by portraying both candidates as inhabiting similar moral and ethical planes.” Based upon Matt Lauer’s performance last night, that sounds like a best case scenario. The takeaway from last night was that Clinton is a crook and Trump is just a straight-shooter.

It just was horrible.