One of the few books that I've ended up reading twice. Kinda like The Moviegoer, it can be kinda hard going, because there's no actual plot to speak oOne of the few books that I've ended up reading twice. Kinda like The Moviegoer, it can be kinda hard going, because there's no actual plot to speak of - just a thinly veiled autobiographical sketch of PKD's famous '74 visitation from the Big G, which he envisions as a massive pink light that bathes his brain with more ideas than he could possibly shed off in his remaining years. PKD doesn't give you a lot to latch onto in terms of characters or pacing - it's just a massive infodump/contextualization of a wounded soul's inner turmoil and soul-searching which is half crackpot ranting and half extraordinary update of Gnosticism for the 20th century. It's hard to say what would have happened had Dick lived - he definitely could have given L. Ron Hubbard a run for his considerable money in the sci-fi/religious prophet racket, which this book very clearly seems to indicate he was heading. If nothing else, it's a lot more interesting than merely being the sort of cheerleader/mouthpiece for the Silicon Valley tech aristocracy that most in the field have become. ...more
While I am beginning to feel that Tom Wolfe has pretty much run out of original things to say, the guy had a hell of a run, and he's one of the few wrWhile I am beginning to feel that Tom Wolfe has pretty much run out of original things to say, the guy had a hell of a run, and he's one of the few writers out there that has his own unique voice, much of which found its fullest expression in this landmark entry into the then-burgeoning field of New Journalism. Sculpting his prose to fit the subjective experiences and mindbending perspectives of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Wolfe wisely stashes his own personal conservatism to the side and makes a strong case for the Merry Pranksters as a revolutionary cultural force in an uptight America that ultimately was made better by their efforts. In particular, he does a great job in showing how the idiosyncratic emphases of the psychedelic experience elevated momentary disturbances and in-jokes into guiding precepts (e.g. "You're either on the bus or off the bus.") which shape youth subcultures to this day. And of course, the Pranksters' acid tests, conducted initially with the Grateful Dead serving as the house band, pioneered the concept of a creative moment where both the audience and performer were equal participants in the creativity - a concept that savvier festival promoters would later evoke in a far more watered-down fashion decades later. Regardless, what made the Pranksters special was not technological gimmickry or even their use of psychedelics, but a larger vision that they were convinced would transform the planet. Kesey ended up inflicting irreparable damage on his career, but even now, two of the remaining Dead members tour under the name "Furthur," and dole out charity through a foundation of the same name. Reading Wolfe's book, one can see many territories that are only unexplored frontiers before the Pranksters drove their bus through. Wolfe's attempt, with all the riffing and the free verse and all the sly epaterring he can get over on le bourgeoisie, is to put you in the drivers' seats, boring into their skulls and letting all of the day-glo ectoplasm seep in until it all makes its own bright, snappy sense. One can only turn one's eyes to the cynicism and snotty trollbait that has infected American pop culture and the descendent of New Journalism and hope for another "graduation" period to come for this current cultural cycle, and soon. ...more
I was first introduced to this book through a former girlfriend back in the early '90s, and despite numerous attempts to finish it, never did until yeI was first introduced to this book through a former girlfriend back in the early '90s, and despite numerous attempts to finish it, never did until yesterday, when I picked it up and wolfed it down within a day. There's good reason for that: like most novels with an existentialist bent, nothing huge or monumental really happens to anyone in this book. We basically follow a week in the life up to and including the 30th birthday of deceptively normal financier John "Binx" Bolling. However, underneath his generally unflappable exterior, Binx is a deeply wounded creature - coping with wounds from the Korean War as well as the early deaths of his older brother and father. He whiles away his time by seducing his secretaries, making lots of money and going to movies. Incapable of sleeping, he virtually sleepwalks through life in a loosely-defined "search," and only connects with his stepsister, the mentally disturbed Kate. Much of the book is given over to Binx's sexual and intellectual fetishes, the abstruse ways in which he tethers himself to the world and his almost self-destructive desire to push himself over the edge of acceptable societal norms (particularly Southern norms, as the book is shot through with gothic Dixie Catholicism) just to feel alive for once in his life. Without giving too much away, he eventually does, and lives happily ever after, after a fashion. Of course, Binx doesn't really ever define for himself whether he was ever successful in his search or not, or even why he was searching in the first place, but remember - it's an existentialist thing. There's nothing to understand, and for a guy who only sees truth in Hollywood artifice, that suits him just fine....more
I finished this bad boy up in a few hours after the massive comedown of "The Idiot" and found it a nice chaser - a necessary palliative to what was eaI finished this bad boy up in a few hours after the massive comedown of "The Idiot" and found it a nice chaser - a necessary palliative to what was easily one of the darkest novels I've ever read. Tiber is every bit the old-school Brooklyn-born hustler, and structures this story like a sitcom, replete with eccentric but lovable hippies, "Nazi" hick nemeses and stereotypical nagging Jewish parents. You'll never get me to believe in a million years that this book resembles anything close a truthful history of Woodstock, but Tiber's perspective as the guy who granted Woodstock's organizers the permit to throw the festival in Bethel after being booted unceremoniously from Walkill is still a valuable one, and at points extremely moving. It is only now as I head into middle age that I recognize how strongly the countercultural experiments of the '60s have shaped me, for better or worse. And nestled within the silly comic anecdotes is a strong argument for how vital and important the social, spiritual and sexual experiments of the Aquarian Age were, not only for closeted homosexuals like Tiber and other societal outcasts at the time, but for everyone else that came afterwards - punks, goths, ravers, juggalos and whoever else needs to carve out their own space of freedom in the American landscape. Woodstock showed all of them how, and especially now, as rock and EDM festivals are currently being paved over and repositioned as cushy corporate branding exercises, it's important to remember what exactly made this moment a cultural touchstone....more
Whew. This was a long, rambling, occasionally enlightening but ultimately shambolic and overlong tome on one of the '60s counterculture's most endurinWhew. This was a long, rambling, occasionally enlightening but ultimately shambolic and overlong tome on one of the '60s counterculture's most enduring institutions. In this way, it's not unlike the band at its most aimless and self-indulgent. Granted, there's a lot of ground here to cover, from the band's freewheeling early days to the many financial missteps to the band's obsession with sound and fidelity to a full-on cultural phenomenon which garnered the regard of much straighter business entrepreneurs. But it unfortunately doesn't focus on any of these very well. In particular, it really misses an opportunity to craft a truly moving narrative around the book's most intriguing character, Jerry Garcia. Far from being the wise, bearded father figure of the freak nation, Garcia emerges from the brief biographical sketches as a deeply troubled victim of the Dead's success, silently slaughtered over the decades by the demands of countless hangers-on and audience members, resented by bandmates and categorically denied of any solace or chance to heal through love or music, each of which betrays him over time. It is utterly heartbreaking to acknowledge that the scion of a huge underground family should die alone in his sleep in a detox center after a lifetime of horrendous choices caught up with him. A more skilled biographer, or perhaps one not so intimately linked to the Dead (McNally served as their publicist.), could have crafted this into a very powerful, if difficult, object lesson for an entire community. As it stands, there's plenty of unique tidbits in here that make it important for anyone trying to understand why the Dead meant so much for so long to their audience, but hard to wade through if you're not a Deadhead....more
Pretty much anyone interested in countercultural tourism, psychedelia or just good old-fashioned misanthropy can find something valuable in Uncle BillPretty much anyone interested in countercultural tourism, psychedelia or just good old-fashioned misanthropy can find something valuable in Uncle Bill's well-worn travel case. Ostensibly written as a series of letters to Allen Ginsberg back in the States while Burroughs was looking for a possible cure for his nasty junk habit, The Yage Letters forges the link between the pulp-fiction writer William Lee and the postmodern impressionist who crafted Naked Lunch. It appears that while yage could not erase Burroughs's endless search for a quick fix - indeed, his search for ayahuasca in the jungles of South America merely qualifies as yet another one - it gave him an invaluable glimpse into the "composite city" of Bosch-ian grotesqueries that would inform his work ever after. In the meantime, he cannot fail to see the worst in everything and everyone. Allen's perspective is far gentler and reminiscent of the many glowing ayahuasca testimonies that are churned out on a daily basis by Reality Sandwich. As a historical look into a world still undiscovered but hardly unspoiled, it's quite invaluable, and Uncle Bill is always good for a hardboiled turn of phrase....more
I feel kinda cheeky writing a breezy commentary on a book on which much has been said already. Still, it seems like even the Wikipedia article missesI feel kinda cheeky writing a breezy commentary on a book on which much has been said already. Still, it seems like even the Wikipedia article misses out on the very subtle impact this compact meditation on the enduring savagery of humanity regardless of its lofty pretentions has had on the culture. Think hip hop (the old-school Irish-American crew House Of Pain) art rock (Devo's "Are We Not Men?" chant) or just about any angry online misanthrope ranting against the human race - H.G. Wells was there long before you, and knows exactly how you feel.
To recap: the novel's hero travels on a ship which is felled by a derelict and is picked up by a cargo vessel with a seedy menagerie feel bound for a remote island. They're booted off before they reach shore by a drunken and very nervous captain and head to the island, which is presided over by a disgraced surgeon with some rather unique views on nature and science. Through a combination of vivisection and hypnosis, he's able to transmogrify his animal test subjects into a rough facsimile of human beings, just barely keeping them in check with a moral code and primitive religious order that places him at the top. However, these newfangled humans really can't fight very well against their own nature, and pretty soon, things fall apart in that oh-so-familiar Yeats-ian sense.
There's no doubt that Wells, in detailing the activity of the animals, is really commenting on human society and its inevitable cycles of organizational decline. It's something that all of us, no matter what our level of education or social status, feel intuitively, which is why this tale keeps popping up. Even science itself, at least in the guise of the fanatical Dr. Moreau, provides no way out. The only solution, at least for the novel's hero, is to remove himself altogether from the sordid mess, and one can certainly sympathize with his case.
On my right hip, I have tattooed the word "animals," and soon, "humans" on my left. That's all you need to know about the problems human beings face, since the two sides don't always play nice. So here's looking at you, H.G....more
Let's face it: Neal straight up jumped the shark with The Diamond Age. Immediately after people began hailing him as a visionary (and rightfully so) fLet's face it: Neal straight up jumped the shark with The Diamond Age. Immediately after people began hailing him as a visionary (and rightfully so) for a pretty impressive run with DA and Snow Crash, Neal started developing some bad, self-indulgent habits with Cryptonomicon, and it doesn't seem like anybody around him has enough pull or inclination to speak truth to power. Still, the argument could be made that Stephenson's digressions, while superfluous, were still quite entertaining and worthwhile in their own right. But I think it's time people stopped doing this, because Reamde is showing that the charm and goodwill is starting to wear off.
First off, Stephenson seems far too concerned with illustrating the proper way to remove a Makarov from a shoulder holster than he does in creating a realistic female character. He asks us to believe that an Eritrean refugee/foster child (Zula Forthrast, who spends 90% of her book as a largely passive damsel-in-distress) can grow up after a hellish childhood in the middle of Iowa and suffer virtually no identity crisis whatsoever. And in a manner similar to Clancy, Stephenson creates a Manichean world of quirky-yet-lovable spooks, gamer geeks and survivalist right wingers vs. murderous Muslim terrorists and their office-drone sympathizers.Small wonder, then, that a blogger on Breitbart's Big Hollywood site embraced this tale. But it's telling for the rest of us to see Stephenson's blind spots - not to mention those of his followers - splayed out writ large against the backdrop of the modern world.
If you're looking for a high-tech thriller/MMORPG commentary done right, I would suggest reading Daniel Suarez's Daemon, as he does everything Stephenson tries to do here in half the time....more
Finally got around to reading this tome, though my edition is close to 20 years old. I got it just around the time Khomeini lowered the boom on RushdiFinally got around to reading this tome, though my edition is close to 20 years old. I got it just around the time Khomeini lowered the boom on Rushdie, back when it was a cause celebre amongst writers. The controversy probably was the best thing for the book, since it probably never would have found an audience amongst most of the people who rushed out to get a copy otherwise. Even today, its strong, uncompromising focus on the Southeast Asian British expatriate experience and its arch, windy tone hardly makes it accessible for most James Patterson fans. Worst of all, it's SATIRE, perhaps the most dangerous format for any writer to work in, especially when you're lampooning fundamentalists who have no aversion to bloodshed.
Pity, really, because this is hardly a book worth dying for. Yes, the structure of the book is a joy to behold - Rushdie juggles no less than three main storylines all at once, yet keeps the narrative running apace throughout - but much of the book is quite dated, occasionally approximating a Bonfire Of The Vanities-style piss-take on Thatcher-era England, with a snarky God-narrator (literally) taking it all in with a smirk on His face.
The best parts of the book occur when Rushdie keeps his editorializing to a minimum, such as with the tales of Ayesha and Mahound. The latter story, of course, was what earned Rushdie his death sentence, since Rushdie took certain, shall we say, liberties with his retelling of the Prophet's life. As stories, however, Rushdie plays it straight here, allowing his gifts of invention and imagination to carry each story.
If I had to hazard a guess to the significance of this book in Rushdie's career, I'd say this is the mark of an enfant terrible before he grew up. For the rest of our culture, it's a harbinger of further conflicts between Islam and the West. But it's unfortunately not the Grand Statement all who initially gazed upon it could have borne witness to, which is a shame, because books rarely get that opportunity nowadays....more