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Special Treats

Off to the shipping agent today to pick up my long-awaited copy of Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, labelled ‘psychedelic noir’:

It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there . . . or . . . if you were there, then you . . . or, wait, is it . . .

Amazon has a playlist Pynchon chose to exemplify the story and setting and you can also hear the man himself introducing the work below:

Check out the Wiki for more Inherent Vice fun.

Like the perennial favourite – ‘who would you like to invite to dinner’ (never of course consulting the chosen one’s feelings) – there is a related question of ‘dream blog’.

This might qualify.

Good Read?

Good Read?

I still haven’t got this yet.  Just checked up on the author’s website, having been shamelessly spying on him via Twitter and caught this interview clip from Amazon.  Something to look forward to then.  Fortunately, a Hospice shop in Bristol that I managed to get to whilst on out recent trip to England provided me with copies of Spares and, my favourite, Only Forward – which are waiting impatiently for me to be done with Italo Calvino so I can re-read them.

There is a tomcat moaning outside.  Woke me up last night at 5am.  I think he’s after Skarzor, but he may be too late – unless it was him.

I picked up this book by Colin Wilson in the College Library.  It is a fascinating read.  Well-written, immensely knowledgeable (at times almost suspiciously so – how can anyone have really read that much?) and strongly opinionated.  Amusingly, Wilson pretty much condemns all the great novels and their producers as failures, for one reason or another, although he doesn’t ignore their strengths or importance.

While it is true that there is a little too much negativity, although that is one of the traits that Wilson means to target in his own critiques, there is something very refreshing about an author that is prepared to square up against the unassailable giants of literature and point out faults that many of us would secretly agree with if we didn’t want to be dismissed as ignorant buffoons.  Mind you, I had to hold myself back as he slagged off Beckett, dismissed Pynchon as ‘experimental only in form, not content’ and belittled Hesse.  Despite this, I have to say that I find many of his judgements to be fair, and most are at least partially justifiable.

The biggest problem with the book, though, is the lack of women writers.   Had Wilson bothered to include a few more females he might have gone a long way to solving his problems with the modern (for him male) novel.  It is even arguable, though possibly he never realised it, that the root of his dissatisfaction with the novel’s prospects in the 20th century is the very maleness of his choices.  Or maybe not.  The criticisms that Wilson levels at the ‘serious’ male writers might equally be marshalled against many canonical women writers too.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is that it takes fantasy seriously, rating the Lord of The Rings as one of the finest novels of the last 100 years and David Lindsay as one of the greatest writers.  Indeed, Wilson implies that such critically marginalised forms of the novel have stayed closest to the things he sees as its true purposes, among which are to reflect the writer’s fundamental self-image and to outline what it is that they truly want.  Wilson also emphasises the transformative power of the novel and its ability to allow the writer (and reader) to transcend the ‘robot’ self that exists within the everyday and see outside the box – using what he calls ‘wide-angle’ vision.

Still, even sticking to male authors as Wilson does, he missed a trick not mentioning Flann O’Brien, Mikhail Bulgakov, Olaf Stapledon and Karl May.  Oh, and Jack Vance of course.

There’s a good, somewhat bemused, review of this book by Olly Buxton on Amazon which is a bit more dismissive than I would be of it, although I agree with a lot of his points.  In spite of Wilson’s sweeping condemnations and sometimes pompous tones I found a lot to smile at and to think about.  A surprising and enjoyable find, although it’s not much help in terms of creative writing advice, which is the reason I picked it up in the first place…

I’ve been going through Dan Simmons’ entertaining and strongly opinionated series on ‘How to Write Well’. I highly recommend it if you are interested in reading advice on writing from someone who does it brilliantly and knows what he’s talking about, and who makes you laugh (and cringe possibly a bit too…)

One of the key things Simmons recommends is that we read the great classics, not to imitate them (god forbid!) but to deepen our appreciation and awareness of style, language and technique. I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, I’ve decided to ‘take him on’ and broaden my reading diet, particularly with the classic novels. Madame Bovary seems to be a particular recommendation of Simmons, who argues that it represents a fictional fault-line, a before and after moment for the novel. So, I thought that might be a good start – I know, it’s unbelievable I still haven’t read it. Have you?  I downloaded a free copy, well-rendered as a PDF, here.

Simmons also highlights Henry James as one of the greatest stylists in modern English, managing to capture vast import and subtlety into what he says and, above all, what he doesn’t say.

I happen to have a copy of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw to hand and I decided to give it a go. It has some fine and chilling moments of horror, as well as an intriguing is she/isn’t she psychological plot-puzzle that has kept readers and critics entertained ever since its publication.

However, in my view, the style is somewhat opaque, particularly the dialogue, and is not a great model to learn from (except perhaps for what not to do). Nineteenth Century people may well have thought and spoke in the strangely periphrastic, stilted, and at times incomprehensible way that James makes them do here, it is hard for me to judge. But I’ve read Wilkie Collins and Dickens, and MR James for that matter, and their characters don’t seem to, unless it’s a particular trait and is fully intentional.

Simmons writes amusingly of his undergraduate attitude to Henry James and his layered style (he tried to avoid reading him as much as possible), but notes his growing appreciation for him as a master of deep and complex prose as he got older, and more experienced, as a writer.

I’m sorry to say, though, that I am still not convinced. So, in the spirit of fun, and to illustrate my problem with The Turn of the Screw, which I’ve heard so much about, and which has frankly disappointed me, I give you a sample from a lost early version of the story:

Whether he saw now the measure of it, or I of myself, was now no longer to be the question. If only, I forced myself to concede, it were. But no, that thought was merest whimsy, no more of the slightest possibility, or of even the grossest supposition or manner. Now, I was only too painfully aware, only the merest trace of what might not have been said or known was there left, mingling too unkindly with the sighs of the frosty evening air. But had I not known of it always? Was it for him, in that monstrous moment, to be vouchsafed that I, as it were, not from the want of it, but alone, as though at once, should perceive, in the most exquisite detail, the knowledge that he, were he only to share it with me in the merest instant or breath, to be? Was I that condemned? I think that if I had, at that precise instant, but paused a moment longer, to accept within myself the truth of it, then I would truly have been lost, As it was, the anguish of the instant all but rushed in upon my soul, and I confess I broke, with all the pent up fury and anger and hatred that the pettiness of not having known of it before could have meant, to him, for he it was, I understood that now, and I ran. Out into the silent garden, its cold embrace and bare winter branches seeming only to mock me now, and I flung myself down upon the close-cropped croquet lawn, and I wept. For how long, I shall never now recall, it might have been an eon. But at last, the sobs subsided and I returned, with slow and dreadful steps to the drawing room to watch a bit of tv.

There’s lots like that. Of course, I’ll give James another chance, and I’m aware I’m being very silly, but he’s lost some points with this story… unless the joke is on me and I have completely missed the point…

Perhaps the style is supposed to be like that as it reflects the state of mind and confusion and repression of the heroine. Oh dear… D**n you Henry James! You win again!

The Moon!

The Moon!

Cliff Burns has completed a second dark and desolate novel for free download. It is called Of the Night, and follows on from So Dark the Night.

I intend to devour these as soon as I can, though I do have trouble reading on the computer screen for long periods. Perhaps devour is the wrong word, maybe it should be ‘snack voraciously’…

Thanks for sharing your work Cliff.

Peter Milton

Peter Milton

I have finally got round to starting Little, Big by John Crowley, which I found by lucky chance a few weeks ago in one of the island’s only second-hand bookstores.

Doing some background reading (without ‘plot spoiling’) I notice that a special 25th anniversary edition is to be published, to the author’s specifications, by Incunabula Press in Seattle, illustrated by Peter Milton (link in image).

Here is the message Crowley posted on the site:

To All –

Every author dreams that his work will be afforded all the care in editing, design, and production that he would give it himself, if he could. That (usually futile) dream was fulfilled for me when Incunabula published a collection of my stories called Antiquities, a marvellous (and now quite valuable) volume. So I’m delighted that publisher Ron Drummond and designer John Berry have joined up again in a new project on my behalf – a splendid new edition of Little, Big on its 25th anniversary. The project has my full and enthusiastic support, and I will be working with them on every aspect of the publication. What a treat! I hope you will think so too.

Sounds lovely.

‘The things that make us happy make us wise.’

and

‘The farther in you go the bigger it gets.’

Into the labyrinth that is the web. Links and side-tracks.

Here is a typical evening’s trajectory, over a rum and tonic with bitters:

Matt Staggs’ post on Martin Millar → Ennis Drake‘s comment on the post → Berrien C HendersonBehind the WainscotFarrago’s Wainscot

And who is there, behind Farrago’s wainscoting? Ekaterina Sedia, Cat Rambo, Catherynne M Valente, Jeff Vandermeer and others, lurking, their blasphemous gibberings and scratchings whispering to my fevered brain…

August Issue

August Issue

Clarkesworld Magazine has a wonderful interview with Wolfe here.

I know I’m probably days, possibly weeks late with this, but if you missed it too, you might like it.

The Romanian editor and bibliophile Horia Ursu is guest-blogging on Ecstatic Days this week.

The spot has got off to a raucous start with Predators, Aliens, T-Rex eggs (dino not Bolan) and Romanian dark beer (yes please!), among other strange things.

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