Dec 30, 2009

2009, and what I found there.

- The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
- Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich (Владимир Войнович)
- Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
- The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
- Kallocain by Karin Boye
- When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
- The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
- Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove
- Sea of Glass by Barry B. Longyear
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- Halting State by Charles Stross
- Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling
- Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Favorites: We, Gun, with Occasional Music, Sea of Glass
Most Boring: Halting State, The Plot Against America
What I should have ready decades ago, because it was excellent: The Lottery and Other Stories
Stank like patchouli: The Fifth Sacred Thing
Goriest: Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom, Altered Carbon

I'm looking forward to another year!

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Make Room! Make Room!

(First, for the record, that is not the cover of the edition I read. But it's such a great design that I had to show it to y'all.)

This book inspired the classic flick Soylent Green, but doesn't actually have much in common with that movie. Let me just put this up front: it's not people. It's soy + lentil (soylent). And that's not even a plot point.

This is a dark little look at population growth predictions from the 60s. Mass starvation, water riots, people dragging themselves through life as a matter of habit. It's no The Sheep Look Up, but it's not exactly a stroll through Peppyville, either. (Then again, do I really want to go to Peppyville? You just know all their restaurants make their employees sing to you when you just want to eat.)

Luckily, Harrison bundles bleak forecasting with a little mystery, a little drug use, a little sex, and a little sharp humor. That's a lot to pack into a slim novel, and it keeps you reading. Even if the main point isn't "People! They're eating people!" but, instead, "Wear your condoms, kids, there's not enough to go around."

Dec 29, 2009

Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling

Marching Through Georgia

I don't know. I just don't. It was written well. It kept me interested. The battle scenes were some of the best I've read. But a book that has me choose between cheering on Nazis or cheering on slave-owners? Not something that comes naturally, even when it's clear that the rest of the series probably deals with some changes of heart among the main slaver characters.

Here's the deal, I am not a history buff. I have a vague understanding of what led up to various American or world wars, but that's it. So I don't get that same thrill that I would guess regular readers of the stuff enjoy from the cleverness of manipulating facts and possibilities into a plausible situation. For me to enjoy work like this, I need a few facts filled in for me and I need characters and a story worth caring about. I'd say I got all three here.

Dec 28, 2009

Another year, another round.

Well, I've been at this a while now. I've read everything from porn to philosophical musings. Aside from a handful of more apocalyptic tomes (and a few Discworld novels to clean the palate), it's been dystopia 24/7 in my literary world. And I'm still enjoying the hell out of it! Expect some tweaks on this blog and a whole new crop of reviews and discussions.

Hey ho, here we go!

Nov 6, 2009

Oryx and Crake illustrations

An artist named Jason Courtney has done a short series of very cool illustrations based on Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake. Go, look.

(Found on the blog Uncertain Times, which you really should check out.)

Oct 28, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road

I burned through this in a few hours while sitting in the waiting room while my sister was in labor. Maybe not the best choice to read while attending the birth of a baby boy, but it passed the time well enough.

This was one of those rare apocalyptic novels I throw into the dystopian mix to keep things interesting (that was, I say, that was a joke, son). And, boy howdy, McCarthy hit every square on that end-of-the-world lit bingo sheet. Cannibals? Check! Horrific environmental damage? Check! A trek through the rotting remains of our culture? Check! A taste of deus ex machina when things get too bleak? Check!

Which isn't to say that I didn't like it. Those things became tropes because we find them both likely and interesting. This is the first thing I've read by McCarthy, and he has a spare style that works well with this sort of story. It's bloody, but even the blood is shadowed, the reds muted and greyed out with ash.

The movie version comes out this month. I'm wondering if they'll keep the ending as is or go Hollywood.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon

I really dig the hardboiled sf/mystery style (Lethem also does this really well). After Halting State, all the violence and action that Morgan packs into his work was especially welcome. It's not great literature, but it's a fun ride.

I have this massive fear of being trapped. Trapped underground in a tight cave. Trapped under the ice (not that I have ever seen a really frozen lake or pond - I'm a Florida boy). Trapped in my own body, mind alive but unable to move (China Miéville's books tap into some of that, especially some of the punishments in the Bas-Lag novels). So Morgan's vision of mind being kept "on the stacks", frozen in time or manipulated by anyone who can afford the technology, really gave me the heebie jeebies.

Not to mention all the brutality in Altered Carbon. Now, this isn't packed full of detailed violence like Chung Kuo, by David Wingrove, but he does linger on some pretty fucked up torture a time or two. I don't have a problem with that. It fuels the rage behind the story, and who among us isn't a little fascinated by blood and gore?

All in all, a dark, flowing cyberpunk adventure. I thought I knew the answer to the whodunit early on but turned out to be wrong - a good thing, indeed. I look forward to reading more in the series.

Sep 21, 2009

comment moderation

I hate to do this, but I'm switching on the comment moderation for a while. I'm fighting an Asian spammer.

Adding: crisis over, back to normal.

Halting State by Charles Stross

Halting State

Have you ever had to listen to someone describe to you, in detail, this killer videogame they've been playing lately? For hours on end? And they're really excited about it, but it's worse than listening to someone describe their dreams, because there's not even any chance of hearing about some sort of really fucked up dream sex between them and someone you know? That was Halting State for me.

I'm no gamer. Okay, I play Kingdom of Loathing from time to time, and I'm enough of a geek to get many of Stross's references, but the whole god damned concept of the real world and game worlds interacting on a full immersion level leaves me bored to tears. Or maybe it's just his writing. He obviously felt that your average person wouldn't be able to follow along with those more familiar with MMORPGs, and he winds up discarding, oh, such trifles as character development or actual plot action to deal with blah blah blah explanations and exposition.

Boring beyond belief is what I'm saying. Bloodless murders, thefts that don't matter, kidnappings of no one. There were a few interesting concepts buried in there somewhere, but damned if I wound up caring. And, of course, it dragged on forever because it never drew me in enough to keep me reading for long. If I didn't have a habit of finishing every book I start, I'd have chucked this one over the fence two weeks ago.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin


Pretty much the grandfather of the classic, totalitarian dystopias. 1984, Brave New World, Kallocain - this novel helped spawn them all. Often, I'll find that I don't enjoy a book that's become this huge influence, preferring the distilled version found in later works. In this case, however, it turns out that the original charmed me in ways that the later novel (no matter how much I did enjoy them) simply couldn't.

Orwell's best work is very spare and stripped down, for example, but Zamyatin's writing in We is almost romantic. His main character, D-503, tell the whole story as a sort of love poem. At first, he is driven by love of state, love of belonging, love of work. As he progresses, he falls not only for mysterious and rebellious I-330, he also freely expresses his feelings for the voluptuous O-90 and their friend/her other lover R-13. His journal style matches this outpouring of emotion. Just riding in an air car comes out as:

Five minutes later, we were already in the areo. The blue majolica of the Maytime sky; the light sun in its own golden aero buzzing after us, neither falling behind nor overtaking us. And ahead of us - a cloud, white as a cataract, preposterous and puffed out like the cheeks of an ancient cupid, and somehow disturbing. Our front window is up. Wind, drying the lips. Involuntarily, you lick them all the time, and all the time you think of lips.

"And all the time you think of lips." I didn't find anything that simply beautiful in 1984. And that feeling remains until the end, even though the narrator's soul is lost, the people themselves may be rescued. It's no accident that this is shown by the flight of birds, formerly banned from the city. All of We, from the space craft to the love stories, is a longing toward flight.

Sep 8, 2009

Aug 18, 2009

unforeseen effects

Every time I go out to my mama's house and walk out to look at the chickens, I find myself having to say "Four legs good, two legs bad!"

Aug 12, 2009

I feel so creative.

I got a blogging award bestowed upon me by Rhiannon Hart:

The rules state that:
Once you receive this award you are to list seven of your favorite things and then nominate seven other blogs.

Here are a few of my favorite things...
1. Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
2. Going out of town with the crew to see a friend's band play at a large show.
3. Discworld (my go-to when the dystopias get a little heavy).
4. Bamboo House Chinese buffet.
5. Unexpectedly being smiled at by a pretty girl.
6. Office supplies.
7. Napping in a hammock in the shade.

And the award goes to...(not in any particular order):
- Smoke and a Coke (photography)
- I've been reading lately (literature)
- Caustic Cover Critic (book design)
- Sarcastic Bastard (awesomeness)
- Doc's 50 (reading challenge)
- Roll Up the Rugs (my sister, sue me)
- Forgotten Bookmarks (what it sounds like)

Sea of Glass by Barry B. Longyear

Sea of Glass

This isn't the first one I've read that plays with the idea of the government restricting the number of children a family can have. And it's not the first one to show a group of kids bonding together in a home run by the powers-that-be to combat abuse and their own confinement. But this is definitely the first one in which the battered, raped, orphaned-by-the-state kid winds up, through a lifetime of his own research, agreeing with those in charge and actively working for them right up through the end of the book.

I think SoG will stick with me in same way that The Sheep Look Up has, though it is more sf and less likely. Over and over in these latter day dystopias, the idea crops up that we need to cut back on population to the point that mass killings becomes the answer. Will that happen? Could be, in the fullness of time. I can't imagine feeling that it's moral even then, though.

There's just so much death in this novel, from characters we know and grow to feel close to up through the nameless, faceless masses. And, in the end, is death actually life? Does it save the world, or is it all just pain for the sake of pain? Almost every destructive or horrific action in the book is taken for what the perpetrator considers a positive reason. Revenge for a friend. To prevent wholescale war. In search of affection. Do the means justify the ends? That's not a question that I have the philosophical credentials to answer, in the large scale.

final thought: One of the better ones I've read in the past year and a half, and one I'll pass on to others.

Jul 28, 2009

Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom

This one was a roller coaster. Not because it was a wild ride that left me excited and exhilarated and ready to jump on another, but because the first half took forever to build up and the second went by fairly quickly. Come to think of it, maybe I should have said, "This one was a steep grind up a tall hill and a quick ride down the other side." So there you go - honesty in review.

I have a hard time remembering names sometimes, both in real life and in literature. Imagine my horror when I cracked this one open to find something like 5 pages of lists of motherfuckin' names, all set out in families, so the reader could have some hope of keeping everyone straight. I almost decided to skip it, but since I own three of the books in the (7 volume) series already, I figured I'd better give it a go. I'm glad I did, but god save me. 704 pages of Li Yuan and Fei Yen and Li Shai Tung? I eventually just let go and stopped trying to remember who was fucking, killing, torturing, bribing, or dominating who.

That's pretty much what happens the whole time, by the way. It sort of reminded me of Perdito Street Station, except that instead of a brilliantly fleshed out world of fantasy and steam punk and politics and blood, I instead found myself wading through some English guy's imagine of what the heavily overpopulated and regimented world would look like if run by a pre-Communism-style China.

Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy a story about imaginative brutality as much as the next (sick minded) guy. Once I stopped stressing about who exactly was who, the book clipped right along for me. I loved the image of the world encased in towering, flowing structures of "ice" (air-light plastics). Some of the characters managed to lift off the page eventually (although most stayed as flat and stylized as the characters of China's written language), even if most of their actions involved either being stomped on or stomping on someone else. I guess I just felt like, if I'm going to wade through that much necessary world building, I want more back in return.

final thought: After I cleanse my palate with a half dozen other sorts of dystopias, I'll give the second book in the series a shot. I hear that once Wingrove gets all his ducks in the row, the novels do pick up and roll.

Jul 3, 2009

what's Mandarin for "finally!"?

I'm normally a book-a-week (at least) guy, but damned if Chung Kuo didn't take me for-fucking-ever. Expect a real write up in the next few days, once I recover.

Jun 18, 2009

The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk

The Fifth Sacred Thing

On the one hand, an honestly exciting little theodystopian adventure ran through this novel in certain parts, and it certainly didn't drag too badly. On the other hand, as a sticker from Obvious Octopus, puts it:

5th Sacred Thing is basically (ecological, peace-loving, San Francisco-style, freelove) utopia vs. (drug addicted, classist, Christian, patriarchal) dystopia. If you are a teenager of a certain mindset, you'd probably find this all deep and moving and meaningful and worth quoting at some length to more practical types. If not, you'll probably find it as startingly unlikely in its conclusions as I did, even though I am as staunchly left leaning as anyone you're likely to meet.

It's just too damn "flowers in the barrels of guns, we can use love power to bring down the war machine" for me, I guess. Sure, I would love to see a world in which everyone is granted human dignity, in which prejudices based on race and gender and sexuality have been washed away, in which people truly love and work with their neighbors for the good of all. I'd also love to spend my days freely traveling the world in the company of someone beautiful and intelligent. What do these two wants have in common? They could, technically happen, but they ain't gonna.

But, as I said, there is a good adventure yard here. I could even see it being an influence on something like Octavia Butler's (far superior) Parable of the Sower. Bird and Madrone are worthwhile characters, people that we care about and are interested in and they slip in and out of the cracks left in a rotten society and try to heal the wounds. But, oh, god(s and goddesses), how I hate hippie sex scenes.

May 4, 2009

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails

And back to our regularly scheduled dystopian meandering. Sorry, folks - I'm reading, but I'm not always writing.

After working through some fairly dense/thoughtful novels recently, I was damn happy about the chance to just sit down and enjoy a good, solid sf paperback. This one was suggested fairly recently by a blog visitor, and I'm glad. It's sort of a Muslim-world, cyberpunk who-done-it. With lots of sex changes, which I approve of in my dystopian fiction. Or real life, honestly - whatever gets you through, I say.

It didn't break any new ground for me, but I liked the ground it trod. I'm sort of a sucker for that whole "independent small timer tries to navigate the underground world by his wits without losing his ass in the process" thing, so this was right up my alley. Since that's pretty much the plot. It was a quick read. Unlike Gibson or Womack, Effinger didn't bother to get bogged down in the coolness of the tech itself or how and why it works - it does, and the plot goes on.

I'll admit, part of the enjoyment to be found in reading dystopian (or apocalyptic) fiction is a certain bloodthirstiness. A taste for brutality or horrific happenings at a safe remove from ourselves. And Effinger deals that out handily. Female assassin-whores distorted with plastic surgery, personality-changing chips employed to up the suffering during murder, mutilation and degradation, it's here in spades. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

I'll be keeping an eye out for the other two in the Marîd Audran series, without a doubt.

final thought: Is there power in staying powerless?

Apr 21, 2009

updating links

Just a note: Peter from Sweden, who sent me the excellent novel Kallocain, has a new location for his guide to dystopian fiction, Dead Future. So check it out.

Apr 17, 2009

"increased pressure phase"

These memos should have been written by William Gibson, not our government.

Apr 10, 2009


Having read the Ellison short story referenced here, this little bit of bathroom graffiti cracked me up.

Apr 7, 2009

Kallocain by Karin Boye


First of all, I want to thank Peter from Dystopiate for sending me a copy of this one. Coming home to a package from Sweden on my porch was very cool. Also, I don't like to read books online, but if you do, you can find the complete text right here. It's well worth reading in any format, honestly.

Kallocain pretty well sums up my biggest dystopian nightmare: not only are you being watched and listened to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from bed to bath to work and back again (yeah, no wonder the population is dropping with everyone knowing they're being watched and judged in the sack), but now the government can even access your secret thoughts!

It's amazing to me, sometimes (the rest of the time it's just depressing) how easy it is to convince so many people to assist in their own degradation or enslavement. Plenty of stick, a little carrot, a healthy dose of "it's for your own good," a double helping of "everyone does it, don't rock the boat" and you wind up with poor Leo Kall. Working his ass off, between mandatory service nights and pep rallies, to give the government new and exciting ways to control him and his loved ones.

Even in our society, if they (that nebulous they) could hear your hidden thoughts, of course none of us would be found innocent. As Leo's coworker and eventual breaking point says, "no one over 40 years old has a clean conscience." What do you think you'd confess? Weird sex fantasies, violent urges, racist leanings? Falling in love with the wrong person or people? Hating your parents? Kicking puppies, watching American Idol, voting for Bush? God save us.

final thought: This novel should be better known, right alongside Brave New World and 1984.

If you'd like a few words about Kallocain from a Swedish philosopher, check here.

Mar 31, 2009

so much gained

You know, I've read some terrible books over the past year and some odd. I've had some funny interactions. I've bored my friends to the point that they flat out refuse to talk literature with me anymore. But, really, I think this whole dystopian reading quest has been the most interesting thing to happen to my book habits since high school.

For all that the books I've read are tied together by one loose adjective, there's a whole world of difference between the future-noir of Gun With Occasional Music, the classic, draining horror of Brave New World, or the scattershot what-the-fuckery of Naked Lunch. And, you know, I can't swear I would ever have taken enough time from the sf/fantasy row I mostly hoed for so many years too read these books. Either the ones I missed that everyone else caught onto in high school or the newer ones I would never have heard of.

Anyway, I'm still plugging along and enjoying the hell out of it (even if The Fifth Sacred Thing is so hippyish it should drip patchouli). What are you reading these days? Is it rocking your world?

Mar 19, 2009

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories

I picked this up for the actual story "The Lottery," of course. Count this as another classic that I just never got under my belt in school. I knew the twist, of course, so I didn't feel any urgent need to run out and pick it up. But I saw a decent copy of the collection for just a couple bucks, used (and let me just say again, thank god for used paperbacks), so I grabbed it.

What a revelation! "The Lottery" is the last story in the collection, and I took my sweet time getting there. I kept this in the car as my lunchtime/between times book, and I wallowed in it every chance I got. No one told me that Jackson wrote so damn well! Little slices of people's lives, most of them passing slowly over some common misery or guilty failure, examining it clearly and with beautiful skill. "The Daemon Lover", with the slow crawl of the day when a wedding never happens (obvious to the reader, torture for the protagonist), especially exemplifies this.

You know, the story "Flower Garden" is sort of the real life companion to "The Lottery" itself. In both, neighborhood prejudices and mean little traditions have crippling consequences for everyone involved. Jackson was saying an awful lot of smart shit about race relations (and doing it in the 1940s! - there are people today who think they're putting out intelligent comments on race relations who use a lot more space to say a lot less than this story or "After You, My Dear Alphonse").

As for the story itself, "The Lottery" still slides under your skin even if you know where the sting comes in. Know what's even scarier, though? This is what Jackson later said about the massive amounts of hate mail she received when the story was first published:

The general tone of the early letters, however, was a kind of wide-eyed, shocked innocence. People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.

final thoughts: This could just be a personal blind spot, but I think that too much is made of one story, detracting from the skill and, yes, possibly genius shown in her other work.

Mar 11, 2009

a Lethem short story for your enjoyment

Lostronaut by Jonathan Lethem

A friend forwarded me this story after reading my review of Gun With Occasional Music on the goodreads website. It won't take you long to read, and I suspect it will take you much longer to stop rolling it around in your mind.

Mar 4, 2009

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America

Again, what is it with publishers putting big swastikas on covers? Hardbound books are already a pain to tote around, and that doesn't make it any easier to quietly read while I'm eating dinner out or something. Oh, well. Anyone who would judge me by the symbols on a book jacket is a fool anyway.

In a weird way, this book reminded me of Middlesex. An interesting story about what it is to be American but still be an outsider due to religion or background, wrapped in a less well fleshed out gimmick. The nazification of America just seemed tacked on, somehow, around the day to day life and trials of a Jewish family in the middle of the last century. I'd rather have more about the kid downstairs and how his life intersects with the narrator's and his brother's. Or about his mother and father, living in their Jewish neighborhood and in the larger world of the city. Or about Alvin slipping into position in the Jewish mafia.

Two major questions sort of popped out at me. For one, has there ever been a time in the USA that a political leader or party would be successful at drumming up the level of overnight, violent, murderous antisemitism Roth portrays? And for another, what about other minorities? Would a leader intent on following Hitler's example not have also turned on the black folks? Asians? (I mean, hell, we put Japanese folks into camps during WW II and we were the "good"" guys - what would we have done as nazis?) Basically, I either wanted this book to be larger in scale or be much smaller.

And then, at the very end, here comes the deus ex machina. Everything's wrapped up in a chapter, no problems, life back to usual, and ain't it grand? Good thing the whole affair was just a German plot, not actual, homegrown evil.

final thought: If you're really into conspiracy theories or alternate histories, sure, give it a read. I'll even loan you my copy. Otherwise, well, there was a good story in there somewhere.

Feb 26, 2009

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Gun, with Occasional Music

I just realized that Lethem writes books I enjoy. By which I mean I just looked up his past work and found out he also did Motherless Brooklyn, which I read a few years ago and suggested to several people. I didn't make that connection until now.

I like twisty, noir-ish mysteries and hardboiled investigators... I mean inquisitors. (Which, by the way, if you dig that style you should pick up a few by Kinky Friedman, because he does a great Chandler.) I like unsettling and amoral scientific processes applied willy nilly to a defenseless population. I like custom drugs, Demolition Man style prisons, and the idea of mainstream media broadcasting appropriate music rather than the facts of the day.

Well, no, most of that scares me shitless in real life, but you get me. On paper, that's solid gold. And Lethem bends and crafts it beautifully. I've found that a lot of authors, once they get a concept like "babyheads", feel compelled to lay the whole thing out right there. Really explain the background and the effects. Show it off like a new toy, "See? And then they did *this* and *this* happened," when the actual protagonist would have no reason to delve into that kind of exposition or may not even know that info at all. Lethem's better at just taking us along for the ride, letting the info slide in naturally as it comes up, not bothering to explain what can be guessed (musical news, for instance).

Basically, I'd like to thank my girlfriend for giving me this book, because now I want to hunt down everything else Lethem's written and see how it holds up.

final thought: And, regardless of genre or time period, the cops are still mostly dicks.

Feb 13, 2009

elbow to asshole

I watched Soylent Green last week. I'd seen most of it in bits and pieces, but never sat down to view the whole thing. I'm a fan of 70s-style-dystopian-futuristic aesthetic, so the look of the whole thing really won me over. I mean, no, the present does not look like they thought it would - unless you're the Polyphonic Spree - but baad guesses are often more fun than accurate forecasts.

Watching Heston carefully pick his way up and down staircases to avoid trampling on the people sleeping there was a simple but brilliant way to show just how crowded we'd become. One of those little film moments I love - understated, makes the point, doesn't whack you over the head.

The other detail I really dug was the "furniture". I mean, it's a miserable concept, but that's the kind of thing I like from dystopias like this. Sexual slavery and housekeeping all rolled into one, but the world is shitty enough to make that an attractive job.

My major complaint about SG? Heston! He was terrible! I have seldom seen such a good, well known movie with such a badly cast main actor. It was like watching a guy doing a community production of the movie somehow being inserted into the film itself. All that clenching and hamming.

Anyway, I wish I'd seen it on the big screen when it came out, not after a lifetime of hearing parodies of and references to the script and the twist. But I'm glad I finally saw it at all.

Jan 30, 2009

Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich (Владимир Войнович)

Moscow 2042

I'm not a student of either Russian politics or literature,, so I'm sure plenty of the deeper meaning (and possibly the jokes) passed me by on this one. That being said, I'm enough a child of the Cold War - and Voinovich is enough of a writer - that I didn't feel lost or let down. My sister asked what I was reading. I showed it to her and said, "It's funny as hell. It's a lot funnier than it looks from the cover." She, of course, replied, "It would have to be."

Moscow 2042 came out in 1986, written just a few years before perestroika and glasnost and the reforms that swept through the USSR. If you were around back then, you know the images that the American public received of life under communism - bread lines, ridiculous bureaucracy, censorship, drab clothing, heavy vodka drinking, plenty of propaganda at work. Interestingly, that's nearly exactly how Voinovich portrays his dystopian version of communism at work. Now, I have no real idea how day to day life in Moscow went in the early 80s, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't quite as glum as we were led to believe. Reading this one boosted that feeling - if it was already that bad, the dystopian, possible future would have been a hell of a lot worse.

I wondered a few things while I read this one. Who is he satirizing with his working class writer hero, ready to ride into Moscow on a white horse and be declared Tsar? How much of what he was satirizing was already happening and how much was extrapolation? And what is up with so many writers giving their late-middle-age alter egos young, willing, sexually gifted women to fuck? I mean, sure, I get it. But really? Were there honestly that many Russian spy babes out to rub their naughty bits up on aging writers? I doubt it. Probably helps keep warm, though.

But there were still plenty of tasty little bits to enjoy. The horrors of vegetarian pork. The concept of food and shit and whether one is the other. Long bills on caps to prevent the people from looking at movies projected on the clouds. I do tend to love books that take government control to the absolute extreme. Reading them is like whistling past the graveyard: can't happen to me! Nope, not here!

final thought: For me to get this much enjoyment out of a translated novel satiring something I know so little about is fairly amazing. I have nothing but praise for

Jan 14, 2009

Naked Lunch, the movie

Remember how I said that I couldn't imagine how you would translate the book Naked Lunch onto the screen? I finally rented it (netflix is cool, y'all) and have been watching it in fits and starts over the last few nights. Not because it's all that hard to watch - although, I could do without the talking assholes - but because I tend to nod off by the time I sit down to a movie at night.

Anyway, I get it now. They didn't actually set out to make a movie from NL. They just sort of set one around it. Pulled prose from various other Burroughs works, scattered in some of his own life, dressed everyone in good clothes (seriously - this movie made me want to wear nothing but suits for a while) and ran with it. The funny thing is, my living room is full of portable, manual typewriters. I've got no less than four on display that I use regularly for various zine projects. And sometime around one a.m., after watching a typewriter turn into a giant, perverted, spying cockroach and kill another typewriter, the damn things start looking to a little... violent? gruesome? worrying?

If I ever disappear without warning, the Smith Corona ate me.

Jan 8, 2009

January Book Giveaway

And the January Dystopian Hank-Needs-To-Make-Space Novel Giveaway goes to: an anonymous poster! (Who was smart enough to leave his email address.) I'll be getting with you today.

Everyone else: I'll do it again next month. There's enough dystopia to go around, I promise.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember

For some reason, I've been through a spate of YA novels lately, and I think this was the best of them. Some very interesting ideas here, centered on what you would have to do when faced with the prospect of not having any natural resources to fall back on. The library full of books written by the citizens. The stores of reused, found, and repaired items (yarn taken from sweaters too worn to wear, for example). The way everything would slowly become shades of grey, with no bright colors left after centuries of handling.

In several other ways, though, this is as typical a kids' adventure story as humanly possible. Parents dead or otherwise out of the way, leaving room for young protagonists to act? Of course. Authority poking its nose in, unable to see the forest for the trees? Of course. Help from a trusted adult at exactly the right time? Of course. But that's just storytelling, and it works out fairly well in this case.

final thought: I dug it, but I haven't thought about it much since I finished it. I'd happily give it to a middle schooler, though.

addition by suggestion

Ben's been telling me about this book 2666 by Roberto Bolaño for weeks now, and he finally remembered to send me a link. It sounds huge and epic and right up my alley, so I added it to the Big List.

Thanks, Ben!