Monthly Archives: August 2008

No place like it in the world

This is it, the missing piece: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Do you ever have the feeling that there was something you were supposed to have discovered long ago, a movie or book you should have found at age 16 that would have been with you ever since? Me neither, but here it is, the one I missed. The funny thing is that this is not among the best novels I’ve read recently, as quality of writing goes. I can see the flaws, and I would be more comfortable writing a snarky put-down of its sentimentalism, (it wouldn’t be difficult at all), but that wouldn’t be honest. The honest, ugly truth is that Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon sucker-punched me. I didn’t know you could do these things in a way that didn’t come off as fake. Now before you ask me what the plot is, I’ll review books the way I want to, thank you very much, and in any case this isn’t a book review, this is a “welcome to my library Spider Robinson, make yourself at home”. If you must have a TV executive’s summary, it’s Cheers meets Neil Gaiman’s Worlds’ End. Genrewise it’s science fiction in the same way that its politics are hippie-libertarian: Laid-back and very, very casual about it. And it’s full of groan-inducing puns. Is that a recommendation? Maybe, kind of, but that’s not really the point. Good or not, this one is mine.

Stress-free as a rabbi playing Twister with a psycho

Like a Tarantino movie written by Grant Morrison, Steve Aylett’s Slaughtermatic goes nowhere in a confusing and violent way. When I read Lint, Aylett’s biography of a non-existent SF author, I didn’t realize just how much of himself he had put into Lint. Jeff Lint is a master of absurd one-liners, and so is Aylett. You approach each sentence as if it were an undetonated bomb, (“the idea broke like a bone, hurting and useless”). Reading Slaughtermatic at normal speed is to miss the point. It will make your head hurt either way, but at quarter speed, and with repeated rereadings of unusually strange paragraphs, you may also enjoy it, though I offer no guarantees. A satire of hyper-violence, from a world of casual murder and philosopher criminals, Slaughtermatic makes about five aborted detours on every page, dropped into the story to derail the reader, (“Specter was an expert in fractal litigation, whereby the flapping of a butterfly’s wing on one side of the world resulted in a massive compensation claim on the other”). It’s hilarious, and proof that you can be absurd (“there were four dead guns on the floor, one still twitching”) without being obscure – which is why I now regret the comparison to Morrison, who is both.

[The cops] had escalated internal cover-ups after the crime strike embarassment four years ago – the only people conspicously unaware of the strike were the cops, who had gone on killing and looting as usual.

La den som har forstand regne ut dyrets tall

Å herregud. En av bloggerne bak Målmannen, som parodieres så brutalt av Lavmålmannen, er Lars-Toralf Storstrand. Vi har en .. forhistorie, Lars-Toralf og jeg. I Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy setter en karakter seg fore å personlig fornærme hver eneste person i galaksen. Han har en alfabetisk liste som han sakte men sikkert beveger seg gjennom. Jeg har også en slik liste, den består av én person, og det er Lars-Toralf Storstrand. I årene rundt 1990 var Lars-Toralf, som journalist i kristenkonservative Dagen, den fremste norske formidleren av den amerikanske satanrock-panikken. Jeg var en 10-12 år gammel gutt i et kristent hjem hvor Dagen var en primær nyhetskilde. Jeg leste Lars-Toralfs artikler om sataniske baklengsbudskap og okkulte konspirasjoner (i krigstyper! mot sort bakgrunn!) med samme iver som jeg tolket bibelske endetidsprofetier. Selv kristenrocken var en djevelsk musikkart, og om du lyttet til heavy metal kunne du bli besatt av demoner. Ikke så rart, derfor, at jeg gjemte meg på do da en i klassen tok med Iron Maiden til musikktimen i femte klasse. Jeg hadde ikke hørt metal før, og da Number of the Beast fyllte klasserommet var det som det hadde åpnet seg en port inn i Helvete. Nå tok det bare et par år før uimotståelige riff og rytmer overvant Satan-frykten, men jeg har nå altså denne listen med ett navn på. Jeg vet at det er smålig, men nå som våre veier atter krysses ønsker jeg å si følgende: Du er en dust, Lars-Toralf Storstrand. En ordentlig, ordentlig dust. Takk, det var alt.

Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun

Alfred Bester’s own titles for his novels were always better than the ones they got from the publishers. The Stars My Destination (1957) was originally known as Tiger! Tiger!, from Blake’s poem, which sets the tone for both Bester’s writing style and the main character. Bester’s title for The Demolished Man (1953, no relation to the Stallone movie) was Demolition! Apparently you can’t have exclamation points in novel titles. I guess it would be tiresome if everyone did it, but if anyone deserved the privilege it would be Alfred Bester. Bester used words in the same playful and violent manner that a thug wields a baseball bat. His novels just skip along, brimming with energy, jumping erratically in new directions on every other page. The Demolished Man (no, Demolition!, with a greedy glint in your eye, as in: power!, ambition!, wealth!) was Bester’s first novel, and not as good as his masterpiece The Stars My Destination, but its treatment of telepathy was solid enough to be stolen in its entirety (along with the author’s name) by Joe Straczynski for Babylon 5. It won the first Hugo Award, and was among the first of the great modern science fiction novels. The Freudianism feels dated, but – Jesus – look at the way he writes.

Bearing a distinct resemblance to Mr Scrooge

Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s fascinating look at how rich Britons view other people provides an equally fascinating look at how two leftist journalists view rich people. It’s hard to say who comes out the worse: the sheltered super-rich who have no idea about the economic realities for poor people, or the journalists whose idea of cultural anthropology is to list the ways in which the subject culture is inferior to their own. Why, those barbarians don’t even believe in progressive taxation! It’s a meeting of bubbles. Now, it’s curious how even some people who like capitalism see extreme wealth as the essense of it, as if there’s some sort of invisible hand that goes about rewarding brilliant people with loads of money. Nah. Extreme wealth is a byproduct of capitalism, mostly incidental to its usefulness, not quite in the same way that excrement is a byproduct of eating, but let’s go with that metaphor: You still want to eat. The mistake of the Toynbee-type of leftist is not to say that the system needs to be monitored or adjusted, but to base decisions that affect everyone on their moral distaste for a tiny minority. Smart leftists realize that economics is something that happens between ordinary people. (Even smarter leftists become market liberals, but hey..) And if you do wish to provide a critique of the super-wealthy, remember that you’re to the world’s poorest as your country’s richest are to you. How well do you compare?

Well you can’t expect everyone to like you

Oh yes, once again with the corporate intrigue and the greedy soulless men in suits. The aborted 1996 series Profit is a charming entry in the psychopathic protagonist genre. It foreshadows the kind of cable series that a few years later would be praised as dark and complex, series like The Sopranos and Deadwood, but Profit is really not that complex: This is soap opera, only better written and with an inverted moral scale. It’s fun, but a lot of my enjoyment came from its historical value. They’re trying to do something unusual here, but they’re not quite there yet. 90′s TV conventions make this a “bad deed of the week”-kind of thing. Now if someone made this today .. well, they did, and it’s called Dexter. And when the BBC (always ahead) made this in 1990 they called it House of Cards. Both of them are better, but I admire the attempt, and I’m not surprised to learn that one of Profit‘s creators, David Greenwalt, went on to the Whedonverse, where he co-created Angel. (Speaking of the Whedonverse: Yes! Yes! Yes!!)

Warrior monks make too good a target

There are two novels called The Apocalypse Door, as I found out when I accidentally bought the wrong one. I saw a recommendation for the one by James D. McDonald, but bought the one by William Todd. Todd’s novel is a piece of crap. The world does not need more self-published Lovecraft imitators. McDonald’s Apocalypse Door is not great, but interesting. It’s the kind of good, concept-driven novel that is a bit more fun to describe than to read: Catholic demon-fighting told as hardboiled crime. It’s all there – an intricate multi-twisted plot, underground dealings with dangerous powers, a Maltese McGuffin, and most importantly that hardboiled style, but instead of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade you have two Knight Templars and an assassin nun saving the world from an unholy race of mushroom people. Sounds fun? It is, (“the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck, and I’d been working on the rough side of the scholastic method long enough that I couldn’t ignore that kind of feeling”), but it’s more clever than good. I feel like politely applauding the worksmanship, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a book.