Can political revolution alter the rules of reality itself? Depends on who you ask. If you asked Douglas Lain to outline the parallels between the litCan political revolution alter the rules of reality itself? Depends on who you ask. If you asked Douglas Lain to outline the parallels between the literature of SF/magic realism/fantasy/escapism and the nature of revolutionary anarchist thought, he'd probably say something incredibly deep and smart -- perhaps on his Diet Soap podcast -- or else he might just hand you this book, in which impossible things happen to beloved and lovable and truly real humans during the brief life of the 1968 Paris student uprising.
In the skill of breathing life into impossible worlds, I don't know anybody writing who's that much better than Douglas Lain. His sheer storytelling talent allows him to bring readers wherever his strange interests take him. Here we have young French lovers who may or may not be insane, or Situationists, or able to travel through time. We have the fully-grown Billy Milne struggling to escape the shadow of his father's Pooh books and his own childhood enshrined in them, to raise an autistic child of his own, and to maintain a rational, grown-up grip on a reality that only gets slipperier as the revolution grows louder.
There is also, no surprise, a bear. But I liked it for more than that, I swear!...more
This is one of those Bizarro books where the prose is "meh" but the concept is so strong and out there ... also, it's got the same thing going for itThis is one of those Bizarro books where the prose is "meh" but the concept is so strong and out there ... also, it's got the same thing going for it as erotic fan fiction: we already know all the characters! Who hasn't wanted to see all of Congress eaten by sharks? Come on, admit you love it....more
For my review of Book II, please read my review of Book I, which covers both books, because the book covers both book. I don't get why this book was tFor my review of Book II, please read my review of Book I, which covers both books, because the book covers both book. I don't get why this book was two books, although I always appreciate an opportunity to puff up my Goodreads statistics. But to be specific, there is no good thing that will happen to you if you decide to be "modern" or "hip" or "cheapskatey" by beginning with Book II. You might as well begin your nice relaxing swim across the English Channel by leaping fully clothed from a helicopter. Don't....more
Russel Hoban's last book. It's a vampire-ish love story among septuagenarians, as observed by various characters in turn. It starts out a tiny bit farRussel Hoban's last book. It's a vampire-ish love story among septuagenarians, as observed by various characters in turn. It starts out a tiny bit far-fetched, but honestly I'd read anything Russel Hoban wrote about anything. The supernatural moments of the book are nothing for the Anne Rice fan, but the way all these wizened characters navigate their worlds, enlightened and weighed down by lifetimes of experience, is gorgeous. ...more
An anthology of stories about recovery, from one problem or another. This sort of story is always interesting, always touching. Highs and lows like anAn anthology of stories about recovery, from one problem or another. This sort of story is always interesting, always touching. Highs and lows like any anthology ... I got my copy for free because a pal of mine wrote one of the chapters. He's much better now!...more
Really such a sweet, beautiful, heartbreaking story. Of course I'm a bicycle nerd, but of all the books about bicycling I've read, this one comes closReally such a sweet, beautiful, heartbreaking story. Of course I'm a bicycle nerd, but of all the books about bicycling I've read, this one comes close to catching the spirit of the beauty of the simplicity of the bicycling life. It's a love story, a work of philosophy, a portrait of the bicyclist as a young man. ...more
In this review I wanted to reference an essay I read online a few months ago, about the merits and problems of "Sci-Fi" as literature, but I Googled fIn this review I wanted to reference an essay I read online a few months ago, about the merits and problems of "Sci-Fi" as literature, but I Googled for, like, sixty whole seconds, and I totally cannot find it anywhere. So please allow me to summarize. (And then please lord it over me when said article is finally located, proving I totally misunderstood it.)
The essay was written by some proponent or denizen of the "serious literature" genre, I don't recall the author's name or even a gender. In this essay, he/she described in loving yet utterly condescending terms why he/she still suffered a weakness for "Sci-Fi" as a genre, despite a long list of its flaws which the author went on to spend most of the essay enumerating. Among these complaints were the usual ones: escapism, sexism, two-dimensionality, weak prose, et cetera, and we all know that such defects can be located in any genre or stream of literature if one knowns where to look. But one of the author's peeves about SF was really interesting and new to me. Specifically: misanthropy, defined not as "anti-men" but as "anti-human."
I do so wish I could find you this essay, and relate specific examples. But for instance, he/she called out one novel (it might have been by A. E. Van Vogt?) about an entire race of aliens who are fighting back against extermination by humanity. This essayist took great umbrage at this interesting SF conceit of placing the entire human race in the antagonist role and locating the narrator's sympathy elsewhere. It struck me as curious that the author didn't even feel it was necessary to explain what's so abhorrent about this.
It reminded me, and reaffirmed for me, that many readers and writers of the "serious literature," the genre that considers itself above genre, are exclusively concerned with the beautification of humanity. They write and read about the specialness of special people, how we are all beautiful and wonderful and our inner lives are of great importance. High-lit people are the most up-with-people people you will ever meet. They treasure the human experience, and are endlessly fascinated with its minutiae. And that's sweet and lovely, as well as very clever from a marketing perspective because there's nothing people love more than themselves.
But if you're paying any attention at all to the environment lately, or the world news, or history ... then it's really hard to deny that eight billion of the nicest people on Earth can add up to one big problem. The truth is, we're pretty terrible at working our our nation-scale arguments without major bloodshed, and we're killing off all of nature at an alarming rate and shitting in the oceans and poisoning the atmosphere, and being generally unrealistic about the long-term sustainability of this, but boy do we love driving our cars and chopping down our forests and having more and more children and feeding them everything in sight.
Anybody who loves nature, animals, landscapes, any of that, is eventually going to reach the limits of their deep, abiding love for humanity, its self-love and its obsession with its own experience. But if you start writing from the point of view of that nature, those animals, that landscape, and try to express its suffering at human hands, you'd better be prepared for a whole lot of WTF from readers and critics who have never questioned the central importance of humanity in the global narrative.
Having said all that ... hey, look! Here is Vince Kramer's latest novel, DEATH MACHINES OF DEATH! It's misanthropic as hell! Anybody who knows Vince know's he's the sweetest guy ever, but he's written a book in which all of humanity comes under violent attack by all of humanity's doodads for no particular reason. During said mechapocalypse a group of fairly pathetic characters trapped in a hotel do a fairly pathetic job of surviving, all the while having inner human experiences that range from mundane to kind of cool to fairly pathetic, none of which end up mattering very much. It's a totally hilarious down-with-people killfest! But if you take it the least bit seriously you will be deeply shocked and offended. It's full of hateful anti-gay speech, which is even funnier if you know how gay Vince is. (How gay? Gayer than a three-dollar gay bill with James Buchanan engraved on it wearing a dildo on his head and a "The Last Unicorn" t-shirt, and with the words across the top reading 'THREE DOLLARS AND ALSO VINCE IS GAY'.) The word 'retard' is employed viciously and lovingly throughout, which is even funnier if you know that Vince ... is a really sweet guy. Worst of all, the book depicts, in gory detail, the unheroic deaths of a whole bunch of people who were clearly very heroic, beginning with Stephen King and ending with Vladimir Putin. Oops. Jesus Christ also shows up, and is a total douchebag. (Mohammed is conspicuously absent, for which I retract one invisible star from my invisible rating of twelve-million stars.)
I'm sure a lot of people can't laugh at this stuff. That's fine, but I would ask them: why not? Is it because they can't imagine a world in which people aren't the big Hollywood heroes? Is universal human goodness too sacred a cow? Is it terrifying to consider that inner lives might be like assholes, i.e. everybody's got one and nobody gives a shit?
Well, okay, I guess that might actually be terrifying. But the opposite story, the one that always sells, the one about the fundamental heroism of everybody's specialness? I'm sorry, but I've heard that one a million times. It's in every Hollywood movie and every blockbuster novel and every TV show and most breakfast cereals. If humanity is so goddamned lovely and special and sacred, then why is our lovely, special, sacred human world so fucked up and broken?...more
Funny story: In 2013 I suffered such an obstinate, stupefying inability to focus when writing my most recent novel, and was so utterly behind scheduleFunny story: In 2013 I suffered such an obstinate, stupefying inability to focus when writing my most recent novel, and was so utterly behind schedule in delivering it to my publisher, that I turned to performance-enhancing drugs: I broke down and borrowed some Adderall from a helpful friend who said "it's great for deadlines", and then sequestered myself at another friend's apartment ... where I had such an amazing five-day run of focused, productive creative writing that I began to suspect all my successful, organized, hard-working writer peers had been using Adderall behind my back, like I was the one guy in the Tour De France who wasn't using anabolic steroids. And even though I recognized full well that Adderall is an amphetamine and I could never handle being on it full time -- the euphoria of the first day was, by day five, nothing but anxious tension -- I was so impressed by how the drug helped me get control of my distractedness, procrastination and inability to keep my butt in the chair that I decided I should figure out how to get some more. You know, for deadlines or weekend writing retreats or general literary emergencies.
In pursuit of that, and armed with my expensive new Obamacare, I scheduled my first medical checkup in twenty years. At the clinic I told the nice doctor that I had been having more and more trouble focusing on my writing (truer words never spoken) and that I had been diagnosed as hyperactive as a child (also true) and wondered if I might be one of those ADD people -- you know, the ones with Adderall prescriptions? And that nice doctor suggested that I discuss this with my therapist first, and my therapist suggested I read this book first. And I thought: this looks hokey. But sure, great, I will read this book -- or skim it, at least, since actually reading a book all the way through has become harder and harder for me -- and thereby learn all about this ADD thing -- a "disorder" which I imagined was just part of a plot by a cabal of pharmacists to get rich selling Ritalin to children -- and this knowledge of ADD will help me to convince the doctors to prescribe me Adderall, that awesome drug that helps me focus. I'll keep a couple of pills in my medicine cabinet for in case I ever decide to write another book, and maybe I'll sell the rest of them to my writer friends in order to pay for my expensive new Obamacare. Work the system, stick it to the man, etc.
Never, not once, not even briefly, did it occur to me that I might actually have ADD -- let alone that I might actually be a the fucking poster child for ADD ... that every page of this book would describe me precisely: my childhood, my history, my stupid problems & weirdnesses that I've struggled to live with at the age of 46. That my problems with picking up subtle cues and listening to others might stem from the same issue as my problems with procrastination and overcommitting. That my low self-esteem and defensiveness might even be classic symptoms of the neuroses that can develop in an ADD sufferer who chalks up their inability to plan, focus and summon willpower to the weakness of their own character. That the way in which I just struggle to cope is not my own lonely struggle but a well recognized disorder suffered by thousands if not millions.
I'm reeling. I'm going in on Tuesday for a professional diagnosis, and then I just don't know. I'm not sure if I want to be on medication, but there are other therapies and approaches, and lots more to learn.
A book will be judged by its cover, no matter how dumb that is. Unfortunately, this book probably does too good a job of looking like a fairly dull (iA book will be judged by its cover, no matter how dumb that is. Unfortunately, this book probably does too good a job of looking like a fairly dull (if brief) self-help tract on a topic that nobody picks up for fun. But the book cover is lying.
This is actually a really lovely book -- a high-satire of medical communication, full of bleak diagrams and numb Helveitca -- wrapped around a set of amusing little character sketches of anxious, depressed people and the things their passive aggressions inspire them to say to each other. The voices are all pitch-perfect, even the narrator's -- who is clearly, effortlessly British even though the author himself is Minnesotan. It adds up to a nice little pile of gorgeous writing, a quick word-snack. I'm glad JPR]Ringier too such pains to design it so beautifully. I'm looking forward to reading more Scott King.
EDITED: and/or ... maybe there are two Scott Kings? And the other one is British? I just don't know ... maybe one shouldn't believe everything they read on Goodreads....more