Monthly Archives: September 2008

I prefer the term “survivor”

So what would really happen after the world ends? Peter Bagge’s answer in Apocalypse Nerd isn’t very different from anyone else’s: The survivors of North Korea’s nuclear attack on Seattle would remain civilized until their first missed meal, and then turn on each other like starved animals. So maybe in real life they wouldn’t turn so quickly into desperate killers as Perry and Gordo does here, but then again I’ve never gone to bed hungry, so what do I know? The style is very Bagge: Down-to-earth slapstick with bitter humor – much more bitter than in his Hate comics. The survivors are not actually forced by circumstance to become barbarians, it’s more like they’ve been given an excuse to think they have no choice, and eagerly take it, (bemoaning what they’ve become while they rob the houses of their victims). It’s almost funny. Almost.

Btw, go read Peter Bagge’s political strips at Reason.

The external appearance of thought

“Here’s the whole story of how Fain the Gardener became Fain the Sorcerer. But I’ll tell it quickly by leaving out the lies.” In my project to read everything by the satirist Steve Aylett, (well somebody should), I’ve come to his one contribution to fantasy. Fain the Sorcerer is a 90 page riff on fairy tale conventions and time travel. Fain, on escaping from the royal castle where he’s failed to revive the enchanted princess, (a local tradition because it gives people “something to think about other than what is important”), comes across a lunatic who grants three wishes. Fain wishes the ability to travel backwards in time, does so, and immediately returns for three new wishes. And so on. Through elaborate attempts to avoid the loopholes of wish-granters, (“I wish to be able to see in the dark, and by this I do not mean to be able merely to see the darkness, but to see in the darkness as though it were illuminated, though without conflagration”), Fain gains many useful powers (and some useless ones), visits remote kingdoms, fights the evil wizard, woos the princess, and goes on a reckless rampage throughout the timeline. And there’s the usual Aylettian linguistic bombshells and satirical stabs, though less than in Slaughtermatic. Read it, and read Aylett.

Remember when there were smart programs on TV? is a video site that wants to make you smarter. Without saying anything bad about YouTube and its imitators, this is a rare ambition on the web today. gathers videos of speeches, lectures and panel debates on topics such as politics, science and culture. The videos are long, often boring, and rarely contain even a single TV-worthy soundbite. It’s my favourite new website in a long while – this is what’s missing from television. In such a gathering of public intellectuals, academics and activists, you’ll inevitably suffer many silly and eccentric speakers, and if that is enough to scare you away I recommend you go watch this freaking hilarious dramatic chipmunk on YouTube. For the rest of you, here are some recommendations to start with:

Remarkable to behold and difficult to understand

I know there’s something happening in David Lindsay’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, but I don’t know what it is. Maskull travels (by improbably means) to a remote planet, a young and wild world where the local Creator and Devil still walks about, and the landscape changes by the minute. People’s bodies correspond to their different personalities, and Maskull’s body and worldview changes to match the people he meet. Compassionate people have extra organs to sense the emotions of others, while cruel people have an extra eye that projects pure will-power. He meets a sort of buddhist, a musician who plays ugly-beautiful music that kills people, and a person of a third sex. David Lindsay’s purpose is philosophy, not satire as in many such stories of fantastic journeys, but I have no idea what he’s trying to say. It’s like an ambitious art film: Someone clearly put a lot of thought into it, but don’t ask me what the scene where the clown shoots Jesus means. A Voyage to Arcturus is an unfathomable allegory of something-or-other, and that’s not for me. I like it less because I have Jurgen by James Branch Cabell to compare it to. Jurgen was published at about the same time, and walks in more or less the same territory, but is one of my favourite novels. Jurgen is a hard-hitting classic of philosophical fantasy, (and read also Cabell’s The Silver Stallion.) A Voyage of Arcturus is only imaginative.

Og du da, er du for eller mot rasetenkning?’s oppsummering av deres langvarige leserdebatt om rase og kultur er deprimerende lesning. Jon Eirik Lundberg konkluderer med at leserne deres delte seg opp i to leire: for eller mot rasetenkning. Jepp, man har i seks måneder diskutert om man er for eller mot inndeling av menneskeheten i raser med signifikante genetiske forskjeller, og hvilken rolle dette eventuelt spiller i aktuelle kriser og konflikter. Jeg skal ikke beskylde Hans Rustad for rasistiske oppfatningene, tvert i mot. Jeg skal heller ikke spille det avskyelige “sånt kan man da ikke si offentlig!”-kortet og be om “sensur” eller “redaktøransvar”. Det som gjør meg trist er det klare bildet denne debatten gir av noe som har gått galt, et forfeilet prosjekt. For selv om alt skal kunne debatteres, er ikke alle debatter verdifulle, og som politikkblogger hadde jeg en gang en drøm om at vi kunne bygge noe bedre på nettet enn det som fantes i midtstrømsmediene. Om man bare fikk samlet alle de engasjerte, smarte amatørene som ikke slapp til ellers, så ville vi få til noe vakkert. Men det viste seg at engasjerte, smarte amatører ofte er ganske dumme de også. framviser beleste idioter av mange slag, med løsslupne nazist-beskyldninger, misbruk av evolusjonsbiologi, og hjertesukk over at de hvite mistet makten i Sør-Afrika. Det er så smart og velformulert, og det er så feil og bortkastet. sikter høyere enn de fleste, og det står det respekt av, men når noen spør meg hvorfor jeg mistror verdien av nettdebatter er det dit jeg sender dem.

With a horribly human intelligence

William Hope Hodgson’s 1908 novel The House on the Borderland isn’t good, but it’s flawed in a memorable and pioneering way. Hodgson writes like a less angsty H. P. Lovecraft, with “inhumanly human” swine-monsters emerging from a bottomless Pit to threaten an isolated house in Ireland. My favourite part foreshadows the “defend your home against the undead army” scene in a zombie movie. The second half is a vision of the end of the world, where the main character fast-forwards through the future at ever-increasing speeds, until both the Earth and the Sun is dead. It’s time-lapse photography in writing, secular in content but Biblical in style. And there’s an alternate dimension, containing a huge replica of the main character’s house and the ghost-like love of his life. All this in less than 100 pages. The House on the Borderland makes no sense whatsoever. It jumps incoherently from one strange event to another, never really trying to tie them together. It’s not even confusing. What it has going for it is its proto-Lovecraftian style, and I’m not surprised to learn that Lovecraft was a fan. He was also a better writer. But still – memorable, oh yes! (And I might just check out the comic book version.)

The deaf will be very hard of hearing

Pundits who, in these exciting times, are eager to loosen the reins on their inner prophet, will find inspiration in the words of Rabelais from Pantagrueline Prognostication for 1533:

“This year, the blind will see very little; the deaf will be very hard of hearing; the dumb will hardly speak; the rich will keep themselves somewhat better than the poor, and the healthy than the sick. Many sheep, oxen, pigs, geese, pullets and ducks will die, whilst among monkeys and dromedaries the mortality will be less cruel. Old age will prove incurable this year because of the years gone by. Sufferers from pleurisy will have great pains in their sides; those who suffer from a runny belly will frequently go to the jakes; this year catarrhs will flow down from the brain to the lower limbs; and there will all but universally reign an illness most horrible, redoubtable, malignant, perverse, frightening and nasty which will so confuse everybody that they will never know what wood to use for their arrows, and will often madly write treatises in which they argue about the philosopher’s stone; Averroës (in Book Seven of the Colliget) calls it Shortage of cash.”