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!