Disch coulda been a contender. From 1965 to around 1972 he was on fire, the living breathing cursing drugged up gay personification of New Wave SF, wh...more Disch coulda been a contender. From 1965 to around 1972 he was on fire, the living breathing cursing drugged up gay personification of New Wave SF, which was a whole thing where JG Ballard’s the only alien planet is Earth and exploring Inner Space not Outer Space was the thing to do. New Wave SF became a feature of the counterculture, and I’d like to explain all that but I’m exhausted thinking about it. There was a lot going on in those years. Not just John & Yoko. And in SF there was a big fight, and who doesn’t like a good literary punch-up? The New Wave SF types were taking Borges, Joyce, Calvino, Angela Carter, and the Mothers of Invention, and acid, and adding that to the brattish pulpy extreme-vision origins of SF which was despised, I mean despised by haughty litterateurs, and coming up with stuff like John Sladek’s Stand on Zanzibar, Brian Aldiss’ss Barefoot in the Head and Report on Probability A , Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stuff, it was all really far out and experimental and all. The American version of this was Thomas Disch and Samuel Delany and Harlan Ellison, whose Dangerous Visions anthology is almost a one-stop shop for this stuff.
After several hot sf novels and many littler sf stories Disch appears to have discovered that there isn’t any money in sf, which I think anyone could have told him & so swerved into horror. I read one of his large horror novels, The M.D. , and it was awful. Now I read this 1972 novel, and it’s sad. Because he was a great writer, had a skittery, amused, angular, jagged, unexpected style, a wicked turn of phrase, but because this was New Wave the idea of mollycoddling the reader with a strong narrative was anathema so what we get here is a futurised version of Life : A User’s Guide by George Perec. I think Thomas Disch had a great novel in him but didn’t get round to writing it. (less)
Oh I forgot to list this one! Wow - oversight city! (A city not found on any maps). God knows whether this is really a five star novel, but it was whe...moreOh I forgot to list this one! Wow - oversight city! (A city not found on any maps). God knows whether this is really a five star novel, but it was when I read it as a young teenybopper, and it bopped all over my teeny brain and imploded it into a zillion sparkly pieces which took many months to gradually meld back into a usable item again - I think that's why I did so poorly in my physics exam. It was called Tiger! Tiger! then, partly because Gully Foyle, the antiest of heroes, has a facial tiger tattoo like this
Well, fiercer than that, so that big tough aliens are scared of him, you know. That was him when he was a lot younger. Or maybe his sister, it's hard to tell.
Tiger! Tiger! was written in 1956 so how Alfred Bester could predict both the psychedelic trippiness of the 60s and the extreme facial tattooing of the 90s is beyond me. If you read it closely there's also a reference to Tip-Ex, which wouldn't be invented until 1959, and mouse pads, which didn't come in until years later. What a guy.
So this is another in the series of I-loved-this-to-death-then-but-I-don't-know-what-the-hell-I'd-think-about-it-now useless reviews.(less)
I read this. Yes. When I was young. At the time it appeared to be fascism for hippies. Proto-Manson, then. I'm struggling to remember anything. He com...moreI read this. Yes. When I was young. At the time it appeared to be fascism for hippies. Proto-Manson, then. I'm struggling to remember anything. He comes from mars and he starts a new religion and he eats people. No - he gets eaten by people. I think that's it. A bit like Jesus. If Jesus was a fascist. You know what - I can't remember a thing. It's late.(less)
The Gas is notoriously obscene. In 1970 copied were burned. Even in 1980 when it was reissued police raided the publishers and seized 3000 copies. Obs...moreThe Gas is notoriously obscene. In 1970 copied were burned. Even in 1980 when it was reissued police raided the publishers and seized 3000 copies. Obscenity is sometimes said to be in the mind of the beholder, but I would suggest that if you don't think a lot of the sex & violence in this novel is obscene you might need to get help NOW. Therefore, those of a nervous disposition may wish to LOOK AWAY NOW as there may be some vulgar language ahead.
The blurb summarises the plot:
An accident at a secret germ-warfare laboratory allows an aphrodisiac vapor to infect all of Southern England, and within 24 hours the British countryside has exploded into an uncontrollable nightmare of lust, perversion, violence and insanity.
As Woody in Toy Story might say, ah ha, ha ha ha, ha haaa. Nice one, Potato Head. Let me give you a flavour of the cascading geyser of vari-coloured bodily fluids we find in here.
p70 : "He was wasting time buggering an old insane priest"
p109: "The budgerigar had been silent during the last hour's fucking and sucking"
p153 : "Most girls in the pews were masturbating themselves and each other, caught up in a euphoria of blood lust and sex worship as they bounced up and down on the cassocks and hurled Bibles onto the stage."
p160: "'Cut the explanations,' said Vincent. 'There're a thousand sex-crazed girls in that church!'"
Now maybe because they couldn't find any regular typesetters for this 166 page spurt of filth, so they had to get some stoned hippy typesetters, I dunno, but there are many delightful typos strewn throughout. Three which particularly appealed were:
p72 : "he froamed in exasperation"
p109 : "Oh! Oh! Ooooh! It's so food!"
p157: "blood still spurted from his would"
After all this insane stuffing of orifices I was left slightly reeling. But it was all done with such a kind of studentish obviousness, doggedness and gusto that it was hard to take offence, particulatly as the falt chracters and the craper-thin polt demonstrades that this was nought but a strenousu and imaginitinitive excercise in onamisn.
I found a comment on a website, can't find it now, but anyway, Charles Platt explained that he wrote The gas when he was about to emigrate to America & he wished to cast off his British reserve because he knew that Americans were extroverts! I mean, there's being an extrovert and there's having sex with animals, and the two should really never ever be confused.(less)
I did not buy any of the magazines, so I was spared the garish aliens on the covers who staggered about with their glamorous earth girls in their tent...moreI did not buy any of the magazines, so I was spared the garish aliens on the covers who staggered about with their glamorous earth girls in their tentacles as if looking for an A & E department but not being able to read the street signs. Nor did I attend any of the science fiction fan conventions, so I was spared any confrontations with the frightening Damon Knight, or grim James Blish or alarming Michael Bishop. Not to mention my fellow fans, who indeed invented the concept of the ubergeek. I always got my sf from end of the year best-of anthologies, and even now I'm on a mission to get them all read. I'm still catching up with the 1980s, that's only 25 years behind the times. Not too bad!
SF is the exact sociological equivalent of rock and roll. Both were the despised entertainment of pimpled adolescents, who were perceived to be wasting their pocket money and corrupting their morals therewith. They were told to do something better with their time, such as applying more cream to their affected areas. But both forms - rock and roll in the late 50s and sf in the late 70s - squished, squeezed, insinuated, thrust, bustled, hustled and subverted their way into the mainstream, and now are the default forms in their respective areas. Is there any big hit kid's or family-entertainment movie since Star Wars which hasn't been either sf in its pure form (ET, I Robot) or fantasy (sf's older beardier brother)? And yet, with what contumely was sf routinely assailed before it bought the factory. Here's Gardner Dozois writing in 1994 :
"When I first became professionally involved in the field in the early 60s, very few sf novels were allowed to be longer than 50,000 words...almost nobody could make a living from writing sf, few bookstores carried more than a smattering of sf titles (most carried no titles at all); sf was academically a taboo topic, and admitting that you read it was often enough to get you ostracized from Decent Society - you might even be openly berated and publicly humiliated for reading sf, by total strangers..."
Well, the early rock and rollers and sf fans have had their revenge, but much of it's been cold comfort, since the stuff that everybody and his alien-in-law laps up is kind of like the SF they were writing in the 1940s - crude, is probably the word I'm groping for.
In fact there was a revolution WITHIN the revolution, because in the 80s sf again became crowded off the shelves by the three or four or five volume fantasy series, those rewrites of a fax of a xerox of an email of a recovered memory of a hasty reading of Lord Dunsany and Professor Tolkien and T H White (and still it goes on).
This book is an sf pornocopia, with beautiful repros of all of those juicy first editions you never found (Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich - urghhh, Engine Summer - eeeeeehhhhhh, The Sheep Look Up - brilliant). And John Clute is the all time best sf friend you never had, erudite and charming, with a fine turn of phrase:
"John Brunner published his first novel before most of his contemporaries had been on their first date"
"If a little fame goes a long way then William Gibson's is due to hit Andromeda"
"It is preposterous that Philip Dick is dead"
It's also preposterous for me to think I'll ever get through all the good stuff described and illustrated so lovingly in this jolly book, but I'll try. Who knows, in the future they may invent a machine that slows down time when you're reading....(less)
Robert Charles Wilson appears to be paid by the word - how else to account for such passages, and they are legio...more(note - satirical spoiler alerts ahoy)
Robert Charles Wilson appears to be paid by the word - how else to account for such passages, and they are legion, as this :
The day I left Perihelion the support staff summoned me into one of the now seldom-used boardrooms for a farewell party, where I was given the kind of gifts appropriate to yet another departure from a dwindling workforce : a miniature cactus in a terracotta pot, a coffee mug with my name on it, a pewter tie pin in the shape of a caduceus.
Yeah right so the world is about to end and there are millenial cults trashing the place which the woman he loves has married into one of them and his friend the genius has a grim disease and there's this stuff about a man from Mars but let's suspend all that and get the pot, the mug and the tiepin down, don't want to let that stuff go by unrecorded. Yeah they're little human touches amongst the catastrophes but let me tell you, Robert Charles Wilson, the pot, the mug and the tiepin are boring and if I may say so, so is your protagonist, a guy you'd rather jab needles into your sinuses than share a railway journey with, Doctor Humourless Dullard should be his name, not Tyler Dupree, which sounds like a guy who made two blues records for Paramount in 1928, but anyway, I'm straying from the point - what was the point? Oh yeah, a 450 page Hugo Award winning novel about the usual stuff - The End Of Life As we Know It. For most of the 450 pages the world's going to end, and by page 350 as I read I was thinking "come on, end! End now! End! Put us out of our misery!" but the world kept not ending and by page 390 this became distressing. Maybe I'm a bad person. So maybe if there has to be an Apocalypse we'd all vote for the kind where you have time to buy each other terracotta tie pins. It's just that it's more exciting reading about the other kind.
Sings with guitar accompaniment :
"I could've bought you a tiepin, didn't mean to be unkind But tiepins were the last thing on my mind"
Two and a half stars.
Two bad tempered thoughts - the final Big Idea in Spin can also be found in Clifford Simak's lovely 1959 novella called the Big Front Yard. That one won the Hugo in 1959. And - there's a quote on the front cover of Spin which must be the worst marketing quote ever. It says "The best science fiction novel of the year so far" - Rocky Mountain News. So far? How do we know whether that review was in the February issue and they were expecting much better stuff next month? (less)
This one was too much for my poor old brain. After a razzledazzle first chapter which jumped out of the page and danced me around the room yelling in...moreThis one was too much for my poor old brain. After a razzledazzle first chapter which jumped out of the page and danced me around the room yelling in my ears all the while, it settled dowm to a steady bombardment of heavy heavy scientific concepts which may or may not make sense to some folks but left me burbling and drooling slightly
This is what I mean:
The whole point of moving beyond the Standard Unified Field Theory is that, one, it's an ugly mess, and two, you have to feed ten completely arbitrary parameters into the equations to make them work. Melting total space into pre-space—moving to an All-Topologies Model—gets rid of the ugliness and the arbitrary nature of the SUFT. But following that step by tinkering with the way you integrate across all the topologies of pre-space—excluding certain topologies for no good reason, throwing out one measure and adopting a new one whenever you don't like the answers you're getting— seems like a retrograde step to me. And instead of 'setting the dials' of the SUFT machine to ten arbitrary numbers, you now have a sleek black box with no visible controls, apparently self-contained—but in reality,you're just opening it up and tearing out every internal component which offends you, to much the same effect."
"Okay. So how do you get around that?" Mosala said.
"I believe we have to take a difficult stand and declare: the probabilities just don't matter. Forget the hypothetical ensemble of other universes. Forget the need to fine-tune the Big Bang. This universe does exist..."
This is SF for scientists. I prefer SF where all you have to do is say "wow" loudly every twenty minutes. (less)
Unfortunately this suffers from what we may call the Citizen Kane syndrome. (Someone somewhere must have given this thing a proper name.) It's when a...moreUnfortunately this suffers from what we may call the Citizen Kane syndrome. (Someone somewhere must have given this thing a proper name.) It's when a groundbreaking original work of art gets ripped off so many times by lesser mortals (not necessarily out of malignant plagiarism, mostly because the original art introduces various techniques which become part of the lexicon) that when you actually get round to seeing/reading/hearing the original thing, your reaction is "okay, is that it?". Pity the poor film lecturer explaining to a bunch of 19 year olds about Citizen Kane's crane shots, montage, deep focus and all that stuff. The kids are going to be bored, you know they are, they've seen all these tricks a zillion times and done better than Orson could do. Philip Dick is a great sufferer from Citizen Kane syndrome. I read The Three Stigmata and I said yeah - and? In my most aggravating tone of voice. Not pleasant. And I knew I shouldn't have, but I did.
PKD does in retrospect seem kind of - sorry to say this - like a one trick pony, the trick being his Total Paranoia about what actually is Reality. Yeah yeah, sometimes it's hard to tell What Reality Is, until that is you get a £400 bill from the body shop when someone stoves in your passenger side door and drives away. Do I sound bitter? Have I forgotten what I was talking about?(less)
There's a thing in science fiction called the Big Dumb Object which always provokes awe and a sense of wonder and all that, and Eon is all about one o...moreThere's a thing in science fiction called the Big Dumb Object which always provokes awe and a sense of wonder and all that, and Eon is all about one of those. They're called big dumb objects because boys of all ages love them, their eyes go all glazey thinking about the size, power and size of these things and all the author has to do is make sure their alien object is really really big. Works every time. Boys love size – breasts, penises, brothers, breakfasts, all good as long as they're big. So, for instance, Rama in Arthur Clarke's Rama books is one, the Ringworld in Ringworld by Larry Niven is another, the house in House of Leaves is one, apparently there's a giant black hole known as the Unicron singularity in Transformers: Cybertron so that's another, and it goes on and on. Every invasion of earth has a big dumb object in the sky called a spaceship.
So in Eon you get a big asteroid thing hanging up there in the sky which when they go and investigate they find it's bigger inside than it is outside.
Probably things that are bigger inside than they are outside are just metaphors for the human brain.
So it's the house in House of Leaves (which was the same house that was in House, an old horror movie from 1986) only it's in the sky with scientists. And plus, when the scientists go and explore it, or the guy in House of Leaves rides off on his bike to investigate the vastness of the House, it's like when kids in stories find doors in trees or in the back of wardrobes and they get to explore a magical kingdom. That part of it is probably all to do with sex, when you think about it.
I was a boy once and have never lost my liking for big dumb objects and secret doors and the frissons they can evoke. (less)
It was only after I’d read Rendezvous with Rama that I found out it was a Big Dumb Object story. I mean, I knew Rama, the mysterious alien spaceshippy...moreIt was only after I’d read Rendezvous with Rama that I found out it was a Big Dumb Object story. I mean, I knew Rama, the mysterious alien spaceshippy thing which appears in our solar system, was an object, and was dumb too – it doesn’t say a word to a soul, not one word – and yes, it was big too, really big. Bigger than a whale! Ten whales! But I didn’t put it all together. However, some critics did, and unkindly pointed out that quite a bit of science fiction is about Big Dumb Objects which humans stumble upon and then spend some time poking or landing on or using a can opener on. Fanboys like to gaze upon their bigness and have a shivery awe-fit. In the SF fanboy world, big is big. I read Eon and Ringworld and sure enough they are all about Big Dumb Objects. “It must be 10,000 kilometers long!” etc. And in The Incredible Shrinking Man everything eventually becomes a Big Dumb Object. That’s what happens if you just carry on shrinking. Course, if you become the incredible growing man, then even mile long spaceships become mere thimbles, and you can wear them on your gigantic fingertips. “I use your mile long spaceships as thimbles, ha harrr!” Actually in Rendezvous with Rama it’s all a bit queasy – astronauts daringly land on it then walk about prodding it and waiting for it to – what – burst into life, exfoliate, produce something, sing - don’t just lie there! – it’s like they’re a bunch of gynaecologists poking around in a stupendously large and complex womb. Maybe Arthur Clarke had problems with his mum, or maybe terrible sibling rivalry – this giant womb is gonna produce a brother or sister who will render earth a smouldering ember! Could be I’m reading too much into all this. But that’s Big Dumb Objects for you, they scream out for interpretation. They’re all in analysis. But they don’t get much out of it. They never speak and they break the analyst’s couch. (less)