Thursday, January 31, 2008

Recently read

Atom by Steve Aylett
The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick
Inter Ice-Age 4 by Kobe Abe
Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Cerebus by Dave Sim
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
On the Genealogy of Morals by Freidrich Nietzsche
Shooting War by Dan Goldman & Anthony Lappe


Thoughts on some of the above...Solaris was better than the movie with George Clooney by many orders of magnitude. I was under-whelmed by Soderbergh's film when I saw it five years ago - now that I've read the book, I think the film was a travesty. It left out everything that the book was about. It is literally like making a movie of Moby Dick, and leaving out the whale . Surfacing is an early Atwood novel, and shows some of the requisite early-novel weaknesses, such as two-dimensional characters and unruly, free-associative prose. The book was compelling however, and I was surprised how much I kept dwelling on it afterwards. Her control of the symbolic layer of the narrative - which is where she put most of her energies on this one - is very disciplined. Aylett's Atom was hilarious, muddled, at times almost impossible to follow, but nonetheless utterly fascinating. Aylett is a true original, a sort of cyberpunk-dadaist - the only writer who can make me laugh out loud, in public, in sometimes inconvenient circumstances, and the only writer capable of describing a politician "deep-throating" a python. Aylett also has the distinction of authoring what I contend to be the funniest short story in the English language: "If Armstrong Were Interesting." It's a four page story (not in this book, but rather Toxicology) about the astronaut Neil Armstrong, and what he would've done during the moon landing had he been "interesting." It takes an hour to read, because you have to stop at the end of each paragraph to catch your breath.

The Zap Gun was above-average PKD. Like almost everything he wrote in the sixties, it has the hurried quality of something pounded out in a rapid, amphetamine-induced blur. This, however is a great book for discovering one of Dick's more under appreciated talents; dialogue. There is also a surprisingly effective love-story at the core of this one. He's done this before of course, but it often amounts to little more than damp fodder for the machinations of the plot. But here, there's a genuine pang of heartbreak and longing. Dick, incidentally, has been done a certain disservice by the film Blade Runner, which was based on his novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" This is not so much a criticism of Ridley Scott's semi-masterpiece, as it is a recognition that the film does not in any way capture the style of a Philip K. Dick novel, even though it has become the cinematic standard on which all other PKD adaptations are modeled. If you've never read his books, and only seen Blade Runner, you'd think that his style was brooding, dark, and incredibly somber. And this, of course, is a serious misdirection, since Dick's writing is actually very witty and satirical, as well as rapidly-paced. His plots are full of details that whiz by as if shot from a fire hose, rich with ideas but mostly bereft of the rococo visuals found in the Scott film.

Cerebus is brilliant and beautiful beyond my wildest expectations. It's one of those absurd ideas that shouldn't work but does. I'm still in the middle of volume 1, so I won't say more until I've absorbed more of it. Dave Sim...what a blessed nut.

Shooting War is reviewed in full, here, in the latest issue of Menda City Review. Which, incidentally, is full of lots of other good stuff - essays and fiction - which you should also read. Now.