Category Archives: authors

Addendum to Prior Post and more IT

Despite my prior post denigrating much of the 20th century literature, I must say that there is much that I did like. This didn’t really occur to me until further into the day after my doses of caffeine started to kick in. But most of what I did like was the second half of the twentieth century, the first half I still regard as pretty sad.

As a lifelong bibliophile who goes through books like Michael Moore goes through buckets of KFC, I simply forget a lot of what I have read. Because even more than the stories themselves, with exceptions, I enjoy reading as an activity.

I dislike intensely the icons of the early and mid twentieth century. Hemingway bores me to tears, as does Steinbeck and Lewis – Sinclair, not C.S. Even Ayn Rand (who I was an ardent fan of for years) is of this strict realism school. Her saving grace from the world of boredom was her attempt to produce the ideal man – indeed The Ideal.

So I did like Rand, and I still think that The Fountainhead was an excellently written book even if full of some heinous ideas (and some good ones). So there is her. And I like Flannery O’Connor. I remember liking Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer quite a lot. That book, however, was not full of your run o’ the mill characters, nor was the plot. There was some Australian author who I liked also from the mid 20th century whose name escapes me at the moment. I liked Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I am sure there are others I am failing to drudge up.

But there was little that compared to 19th century literature. Much like painting and art in general, it just wasn’t as good. No one compared to Hugo and Dostoyevsky, nor Dickens or Austen. It is like van Gogh to Caravaggio – I mean, come on.

For the most part. But I am of the opinion that the twentieth century belonged to the genres. That is where the imagination, the speculation, went to live. And I got more reflection out of Frederik Pohl’s The World at the End of Time than in most anything else of the twentieth century literature I read.

That said.

I will sometimes scan reviews of books I am about to read or am in the middle of reading for curiosity at times. And I did that with Stephen King’s IT. Five star reviews I never read, what one loves another can hate. I always go for the one star reviews.

Among the complaints is that it is too long and that King goes into too much detail. It is a 1200 or so page book and at page 133, he is not yet done introducing the cast of characters. Not that there are an overwhelming number of them, nor is the character sketches entirely deep, but King likes to put a lot of concrete detail about one’s youth, family, childhood traumas, and what is in one’s medicine cabinet (not the most telling detail, but it can tell something, no?). It took about twenty pages to get done introducing one character only to have him slit his wrists in the tub upon receiving the phone call. Bye bye.

Now despite this it is Stephen King, people. He is my guilty pleasure read because I like horror and you can slam through one of his books (no matter the size) pretty quickly. After reading some esoteric chapter on ancient Jewish conceptions of the afterlife, or trying to figure out some Lafferty story I just read, King is a relaxation. And he has a way of connecting with a reader that almost never fails. They are usually through common human bonds that only a misanthrope would fail to register. I mean his book Christine (and for that matter, The Tommyknockers) is about friendship not really about some demonically possessed car.

But I cannot believe some people simper that the book is too long and King doesn’t “get to the point.” These kids (and I suppose they must be of the iPhone generation) would never be able to read, for instance, the unabridged Les Miserables. I think, if memory serves, there is even a thirty-some page description on glass manufacturing in it that has no bearing on the story itself. I think there were quite a few asides in there like that that I skipped over after awhile. Or the two and a half page paragraph, or seventeen pages of description (talking of books in general back then) with absolutely no dialogue.

They couldn’t do it. Could they keep reading long enough for Raskolnikov to commit his heinous crime? Or how about all that book that comes after? How boring! Oh shit, How about The Idiot? What the hell is that about when you are on page fifty? Anybody?

Tolstoy’s War and Peace? They would glaze over by page six, “Oh dear God! Will a Transformer please show up or something! I’m so bored right now!”

If Stephen King is too long and plodding for you, put down the book, go watch the movie. Leave the reading to the readers.

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FIRST THINGS talks PAST MASTER

The Christian online (online?) magazine FIRST THINGS, talks PAST MASTER, and DEAD LADY OF CLOWN TOWN, MANSIONS IN SPACE, and a few others.

Hey, they got the essential theme right!


New Acquisitions in Fantasy

I found a good source for widening my fantasy reading experience. I hope. I haven’t read very much in fantasy as compared to science fiction. I feel that this is because while science fiction had many influences (including fantasy itself) a lot of fantasy is occupied by derivatives of Tolkein’s works. Current releases probably mirror George RR Martin’s work which is really just a nihilistic, modern take on conventional fantasy. In fact, I was in the science fiction/fantasy isle lat month and saw two such titles by different authors that began like “A Game of…” “A Dance of…”, much like in the late 90’s and early 2000’s you ran across YA books like “Charlie Bone and the….” Derivative.

The source for widening my fantasy experience is Lin Carter’s Ballentine Adult Fantasy series from the 60’s and 70’s (note – many of the works in the series predate the 60’s and 70’s by several or more decades, many being rereleases). Hat tip (yet again) to Mr. John C. Wright for bringing this series to my attention.

Right now I have about 50 pages of Peter S/ Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN left and then Michael Moorcock’s STORMBRINGER. Then I think I may rip through these and then tackle R.A. Lafferty’s PAST MASTER again.

Happy Reading everyone!


GREAT LAFFERTY MOMENT

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SPOILERS! [Although I will try to make it not so]

I am in Tales of Midnight of the More Than Melchisedech entry of the ARGO series by R.A. Lafferty. There is a moment where they are discussing the death of one of their own, and one of the characters is foretelling of his own demise at the hands of an enemy and the fact that the death will be attributed, falsely, to his liver.

Before I go into the scene. One of the reasons I love this scene so much is it could happen – does happen – at any moment in my own living room (I don’t technically own a banjo, but I do possess a banjolele (also known as a banjo uke)

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or at the bar, or in the grocery store.

Anyway, here is the scene (most of it, anyway, I won’t give out the entire song)

“I’ll be killed by them myself,” Bagby said, “and yet my death will be attributed to my liver, a gentle organ that never harmed anybody.”

“How is your liver really, Bag?” Duffey asked him.

“Oh tell us how’s your liver, Mr. B.,” Dotty sang.

“I believe that, with a little help from some of my creations, we could make a song out of that,” Duffey proposed. Mary Virginia Schaffer went to the piano (this was in ‘Trashman’s Girl-a-Rama‘) and several of them hammered out the song then. More songs have been born in Trashman’s than in any place in the block. Duffey accompanied them on a house banjo (he hadn’t his own banjo with him) and all of the unofficial members of the Pelican Glee Club sang thus:

“Is it true you have abused it?                                                                                                                Have you battered it and boozed it?                                                                                                       Are you sorry you misused it                                                                                                            Horribly?                                                                                                                                                        Does it need the Great Forgiver?                                                                                                                  Is it feeling sensitiver?                                                                                                                                    Is it shrunken to a sliver?                                                                                                                               Oh tell us how’s your liver,                                                                                                                          Mr. B.”

I love how a deadly serious discussion segues into a number at the drop of a hat. It is loony!  There are dozens of these unexpected turns in any Lafferty story, but some just stand out.

Sometimes he slips you right into an alternate reality where the world has become a comic strip or cartoon.

[I don’t know why the text for the lyrics came out the way they did. I was trying to get the lines to be single spaced which the editor doesn’t let you do. So I spent several minutes hitting the space bar to get the lines single spaced and now it comes up all mish-mashed. It appears normal when I re-open it in the editor so it will have to stay as is. Sorry!]

 


My Lafferty Shelf

I took me a while because I had to be talked out of removing the books from the plastic. But here they are in their bookness doing what books do while they are not being read, talking amongst themselves waiting to be read. Actually I am fitting in stories from Does Anyone Else have Something Further to Add? at the end of my study day. I have read a number of them before, but that is no reason not to read them again, silly. And this time it will be from a themed book!

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And yes, that is also a crucifix on the top shelf and on the bottom shelf a picture of the me (when I had hair… miss the hair sometimes…) and the missus from 23 years ago. Also on the bottom shelf is Thomas A Kempis’ My Imitation of Christ.

These things are not out of place on a Lafferty shelf.

There is some overlap in this collection. I have three Past Masters, two Aurelia, two Serpent’s Eggs and a few others. None of the real rarities overlap though.

I also have back East of Laughter which I had gifted to author John C. Wright a year or two ago. I regretted that because I grew to be such a Lafferty fan.

I’ve been thinking about starting a spin off blog from this one where I do commentaries on Lafferty stories. I am just not sure I can do the work justice (or pull off intelligence) given my present schedule.

For instance, last night after pumping in eight hours of study that took fourteen hours to finish (the day’s normal demands plus school demands = more time than you’ve got) I reread About a Secret Crocodile. There is something very representative in this story. It is Lafferty’s ability to perform modern surrealist (surrealist is sometimes too light a word, is it not?) fantasy with subtle and obvious humor while making poignant arguments or observations about our world and our time. About a Secret Crocodile is certainly that kind of story.

Of the surrealist element… I think if a film adaptation of one of Lafferty’s works were ever made, only animation (and creative animation at that) could do it justice. Perhaps the French could pull it off or Terry Gilliam…

I remember in my Randroid days we would find inexhaustible conversation time discussing who would play what part, or who would direct a film version of Atlas Shrugged. Suffice it to say we were all wrong when the hilariously bad adaptation did see the light of day! But I think that would be even more fun with Lafferty. Who could direct Fourth Mansions? What screenwriter could transfer that to an intelligible script? Most fans find it rough to penetrate.

What the hell was I talking about?

Anyway, I have to study. See? No justice to the material.

Just a few more months…

Have I not said that before?


Lafferty Collection

I did a major upgrade to my R.A. Lafferty collection last week. And, unfortunately, probably the last for awhile. Now I have to get a job! I have nearly everything that is currently out there to be had.

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I’ve known for some time that Lafferty, later in his career, languished in the smallest of the small presses. But upon getting some of the smaller small press works it made me a little angry that he had to suffer that fate. I do not really know how he saw it. But the way I look at it is I see the mountains of shit that makes up “literature” and science fiction and he is relegated to obscurity because it was not what everyone else is writing.

That is one way I look at it at least.

Ah, yes, it is easy to uphold a neglected genius and to throw my feces at James Patterson. But throw I shall. MAD MONKEY ME! MAKE BOOM BOOM! One could say that it easily butters the soft side of one’s ego, but being a Lafferty fan is hard work. If ease of comprehension is a virtue, Lafferty was a most wicked man. And maybe he was in the good way some wicked people are.

I just wanted to drop a tear when I saw some of his later work look like it was typewritten and stapled in someone’s garage. That is no loggerhead to the fine gentlemen that likely made nothing publishing him when no one else would. I read in one of the introductions to one of my new acquisitions (I think it was Michael Swanwick in Iron Tears) that the big houses wouldn’t publish him in the end because there was no money in it.

It is contemplating such stark realities that makes me wonder whether all our freedom isn’t a road to hell. There’s no money in it. I used to study economics – I agree with what used to be called the Austrian School. There are laws of economics as unflappable and sure as any in the halls of physics. And don’t let your local palm greasers sell you any other brand of soap. I get it. But for Random House (or fill in your big man) to let one of our most gifted authors just whither into obscurity because “there’s no money in it.”

Who did it? That is the question that sets the wrench free. People have pointed to the capitalists before (for I am not near the first person to pose the question) that they cater to an ever lowering bar. I don’t believe such answers are holistic enough.

All sufficient answers are wholly holistic. Or, as Hegel (who I dated in an earlier incarnation of myself, btw) said:

The true is the Whole.

Just as long as we understand that is probably the only true thing Hegel ever said!

Maybe we really are in the Day After the World Ended as Lafferty said. Although he said that in 1979, so it’s now several days after the world ended. If you’re not familiar with the concept (and why would most of you be, it is an obscure concept) I will be covering it at some future date. I agree quite a lot with his position that the world ended sometime in the 20th century. I also love the idea like an adopted child because it is an idea (or a finding) that I had not the slightest inkling of before he told it to me. Usually I have to go to the Bible for such things.

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Holy crap, it is past midnight! I never stay up this late anymore.

One more pic!

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Addendum to Previous Post

I wrote in my previous post about my premature evaluation of The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists:

They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship.

They seem to… This is a great way of writing that too rarely done. Too many times I think an author tries to give the reader an absolute. It is “The Cat is on the Mat” style of writing which may work for children since their imaginations can take the most flat and literal expressions and make them into wonder.

I don’t care that I don’t know exactly, at least not yet, how or what these people really are. Those are questions that keep me going forward. Sort of like the questions of life itself, no? There are two ways to do this by the end of a story, and I’ve seen it done right both ways. You never really find out or the vagueness is used to reveal as we go on.

Now this is material I’ve covered before elsewhere but here it is for the purposes of a book recommendation. One of the best constructed books I have read especially of science fiction. The author, Brian Aldiss uses this technique with the best skill I have ever seen.

The book is Non-Stop (otherwise known as Starship) by Brian Aldiss. His technique is comparatively easy to do on film, not so easy to pull off on paper. But he does it. It is not a deep book, no meta-ethic or anything, just great technique. Or, perhaps, I was so engrossed in his perfection of technique, I missed anything wider. Entirely possible…

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The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists

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I saw this at the bookstore a couple of months ago and my wife got it for me as an early birthday present because I was so intrigued by the title. It is a little rare to find – $60. I decided my breakfast book could not be the current

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(which, btw, is so far great – a mix of Catholicism, spiritualism, psychology, physics, cosmology – its first of a four part series of books by the former president of Gonzaga University) because it is too technical to read over the morning news and my wife getting ready for work. So I decided to take Platypus out of the plastic and dive in.

So far it is different which is one of my key qualifiers for new work. Put it this way, I have no interest in ever reading the James Patersons or Nora Roberts or John Grishams of the world. Stephen King? Sure. Although I prefer his less popular works like Tommyknockers. He calls it his worst novel. I loved it!

He, Cover, is not stylistically inventive in any particular way that jumps out but the subject matter and approach of story is. They seem to live in a far future where space is no longer a hostile environment to man and yet they seem to live communally and under some sort of soft dictatorship. Or a hard dictatorship since those in control can direct your soul where they wish after you die. Or at least the people think they can.

And now the leader says that the Black Pirates are to have their champion fight the Black Pirates champion and the winner will be visited by the dreaded Platypus of Doom!

And this was after the lead character’s girlfriend was killed by a meteor and one of the members was telling him how ugly his girlfriend had been and how revolting it must have been to have entered her. And how he should bed her daughter.

Quite unusual.

There are no technical explanations of how, for instance, the lead character (he has no name as yet) is able to get away from it all by, basically, willing himself to a different galaxy. You just accept that these people have this ability. It is that sort of “soft” science fiction that I usually prefer.

Only 8 pages in and I can give this one a recommendation. One of the tests of recommendation, I think (meaning, would I recommend a work to someone) is: does the material stay in the mind? Will the material stay in the mind? There are many a Pohl and even Heinlein story that I can remember nothing of.

I’ll remember, if nothing else, these first eight pages. So if you run across a copy, snatch it up!

Oh, and the author is not English. You’d think with a name like Arthur Byron Cover he’d be from across the pond!


Rork!

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This was my first foray into the world of Avram Davidson. Not so sure about this guy. The writing style was competent, the story… not very memorable. It certainly fits into its time. You know if a man lands on a planet and slips pretty easily into two or more vaginas within the first 50 pages (to be fair though the book is only 148 pages… alright now I’m laughing) you are reading a book written by a creepy white dude in (probably) America in the 1960’s or 1970’s. There is almost a pathology to it. It is almost incidental. The words related to any fornication could be substituted for relative words for eating a meal together and it would have so the same impact on plot and their lives.

They do the same sort of thing now but we are bored by something as commonplace as free-love, or consequence-free sleeping around with easy women. Instead we get rape and incest a la George RR Martin and sundry types. We’re all John Norman now!

If you contemplate this may all be wish fulfillment… you want to back away… slowly…

Anyway, I am not sure if Rork! represents a nadir in Davidson’s career. A simple “meh” moment, or he simply isn’t that good. I have a couple other books of his that I got off a personal library clearance.

It just wasn’t that special.


The Scar and the Next Read

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To those who are new here, I have a policy when doing a book review. I talk about my impressions from the book, but I do not mention any details. My reviews (if they can even be called such) are 100% spoiler free because I talk in generalities.

The Scar was great. Mieville is an excellent writer. The Scar: think Melville meets Lovecraft meets a dash of RR Martin’s Fevre Dream. Mieville has one of the most polished styles I’ve read in a while. I’ve heard people say he is too wordy with his descriptions. I think he does it just about right.

I disliked his handling of sex (of what there was) but it did fit the despair of the novel quite well. Except for the use of “f***” for intercourse. Every time he used it, I was jolted back to now and out of the story.

No heroes in this story, no one to look up to. There was a sort of honor among thieves morality going on – a pirate code as it were. I am not sure if Mieville is the sort that writes heroes or understands what one is. But his skills as a writer means I give him pass. After all, Dostoyevsky never had any either. The closest I can think of is Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov, but he was hardly Errol Flynn!

Anyway, The Scar is probably the best book I’ve read in years. I will be reading the rest of his catalog.

Currently on the reading docket. 

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I’m only on the first chapter but it is good so far. That means I got myself trapped in three books at the moment besides the 7 I’m on for my school work. The one above, Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Sheen’s The Life of Christ. I’m immersed in medicine and theology!

Ah, am I a boring snoot. I can’t wait to be writing again.