Thursday, January 29, 2009

press my face up to the screen

A Circular of Recent Literate Goings-On, or, D.D Tinzeroes Reviews the Recently Read, No. 4. This batch comes highly recommended.



The Anubis Gates
Tim Powers
(1983)

There is no better introduction to Powers than the Anubis Gates. 'Course, this one won some awards and stuff, so I suppose it's arguably his best. Academic type specializing in the poetry of Lord Byron and the like gets to go back in time to meet Woodsworth. Get's stuck. Turns out ancient Egyptian magicians are running around England, burning down London and the such. Puppets (sigh) and a seriously messed up clown puppeteer. Good London stuff. Magic. More time travel. The fictitious poet William Ashbless, whom was co-created by Powers and Blaylock in university, factors heavily. Powers' signature style of systemized magic is present: in this case magic can be negated by one's feet on the ground.



Lost Cities of the Heart
Lewis Shiner
(1988)

I really adore this book. Shiner's prose and characterization are strong as they were in Slam. A rock star (Eddie) leaves it all and goes to the Yucatan to be with Maya Indians.1 His more straight-edge brother (Thomas) did college research at Mayan ruins in same vicinity. The unrest of 1980s Mexico intervenes to send Thomas in search of Eddie, joined by Eddie's estranged wife, who Thomas has a major hard-on for. Love triangle develops. Jimi Hendrix cameos. Mexican rebels. American mercenaries. Mondo hallucinagenic mushrooms in the shadow of the Mayan pyramids. Time travel. Helicopter combat. The ending's perhaps a little hectic and messy, but it early work for Shiner, really, so the overall strength outweighs the demerits.



Holy Fire
Bruce Sterling
(1996)

I hadn't read much of Sterling's later works, but Holy Fire surprised me. In a future where near immortality is common, and the world is governed by the medical establishment (when you can live forever, or very close to forever, things like money, governments, wars and the like become irrelevant), one member of the elite tries a new, experimental procedure that literally strips you down to your brain and spinal cord and builds a Brand Spanking New body back up around you. The side effect, however, is that you regain that youthful recklessness – the experience of old age is mostly forgotten. What follows is a sort Candid-esque tour of a future full of Sterling ideas.2 Gossamer jetliners. Post peak oil need for plastics met by landfill mining and recycling plastics found within, so that there are landfill millionaires, as it were. Laptops built into smart-fabrics. People experiment with the potential of their medically mastered world. An artist takes a drug to sabotage his memory so his style stays fresh: no two pieces are the same. Another guy goes to a sort of reverse-evolution resort: they'll regress you into the missing link and you can spend your days scavenging for shellfish on a beach somewhere. Even the ending doesn't bug me.

-d.d.

1 A strangle parallel to Kadrey's Kamikaze L'Amour
2 A familiar model for Sterling.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bostwick

"You love them in red, then you love them in blue, but mostly you love them in red," said Fat suddenly, unexpectedly.

D.D., knowing this to be a quote from something, furrows brow and paces about in concentration for a few minutes. Stops, looks at Fat, "I can't place it."

Fat grins, "MegaForce!" he says.

D.D. scrunches his nose at Fat, his mouth becoming a sort of sideways question mark, "why are you thinking about MegaForce?"

"I have no idea."


-d.d.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

tighter packed with stuffing

Fat found this plushie seat on Play-Asia, tho' it be unclear what he was looking for when he found it. He introduced his discovery with the words:
The description here Gives me the jibblies, but sorta makes me smile?

It's complicated.
The description in question being, I presume,
Plushes usually sit on your lap as you watch TV or sleep in your arms on your bed. To return the favor, the Dokodemoissyo cats are letting you sit on them. Heavier than normal plushes and tighter packed with stuffing, these plushes work well as TV stools, as especially for children or petite people. Place them in front of the TV screen and bounce on their heads when you see something exciting.

Mirror the cats' moods when you sit on them, smile happily or be hysterically happy, after all, these cats are here for just that, to cheer you up.
It is a bit odd, and I see where he's coming in. I replied that the diagram was perhaps more jibblies-istic.

plush seat.jpg

A curious diagram to western eyes, for sure. It all makes more sense in terms of 18-mat tatami apartments, course.

-d.d.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Scratching the Light Off the Horizon

A Circular Containing an Continuation of Books of Interest Read in the Period 2007 to the Present, by D.D. Tinzeroes, No.3.



The Stars My Destination
Alfred P. Bester
(1956)

I read this after readings its high recommendation in Michael Moorcock's "Starship Stormtroopers" essay (he categorized it as a truly radical piece of scifi), and then having it "of course, I assumed you had already read it" recommended by Fat. It did not disappoint. Apart from the simple joys of a Count of Monte Cristo retell w/ scifi trappings, a strong protag in Gully Foyle, and the great ending Moorcock is right to put on a pedestal, I think I was most impressed with Bester's use of jaunting, his name for the practice of teleportation, a common practice by humans in his setting. Indeed, the book begins with an account of the origins of this practice, and I have to admit, I was a little skeptical: I mean, a future where not only people can teleport at will, but EVERYONE can teleport at will? It just seemed a bit silly. But lo and behold, a hundred pages or so later and I realized I wasn't even giving this jaunting business a second thought. This is called good writing, because Bester's descriptions and use of jaunting are both so casual and yet rigorously part of a defined system that the reader comes to think as little of it as the act of walking or talking. Bravo.



A Fire in the Sun
George Alec Effinger
(1989)

The second Marid Audran/Budayeen novel. Marid adjusts to his new life as unwilling servant of mega-gangster Freidlander Bey. Bey buys him his favorite bar. Marid seeks out his birth mother. Good police procedural stuff with Marid partnered with a city police officer. Further exploration of Arab and Islamic customs and concepts. It occurs to me that perhaps the best part of the Budayeen stories is that there's a fairly large cast of characters, who, once introduced in one novel, crop up in the subsequent volumes. Better yet, things to not remain static. Every character is up to something, and even Marid's attitude and station in life changes dramatically from when he met him in the opening pages of the first volume.



Software
Rudy Rucker
(1982)

The inaugural volume in Rucker's Ware series (followed by Wetware, then Freeware and Realware). Introduces us to the sentient robots, the Boppers, who live on the moon. The boppers invite their creator to visit the moon, so that his mind can be imprinted to file and he may live forever, as it were. For '82 this book has aged very well, both in terms of ideas and writing.



The Drawing of the Dark
Tim Powers
(1979)

Powers said something about once about getting his ideas from the little things in history that don't quite fit. For example, when the Ottomans reduced Hungary, they pushed on to lay siege to Vienna, even though season for warfare was drawing to a close. Why? After all, heavy rains forced them to leave their heavy siege cannons behind. Powers answer is that the conflict is actually orchestrated by agents of the magical Kings of the West and the East. And a mercenary named Duffy is handpicked to essentially be a bouncer at a very old brewery in Vienna, the dark bock originating from which is suddenly a big deal. Great throw-away line about all religions being based on the brewing of beer (which is a pretty miraculous process, if you really think about, and if a society had never tasted or even conceived of beer before, I suppose it would be pretty awesome if someone suddenly showed you how). As before, strong systems of magic, which are simultaneously loose yet constrained, in the background and yet very central.



Global Head
Bruce Sterling
(1992)

A collection of Sterling's short stories, and, I must confess, I was not terribly smitten with this omnibus. A Good Old-Fashioned Future (1999) and the Shaper-Mechanist shorts are both more interesting and more entertaining. The first story, about a genetic engineering industrial accident, that causes dogs and cats and other animals to become intelligent on par with humans is pretty good, albeit brief, but is perhaps also indicative of the volume a whole, ideas that can't seem to break free from the cruel gravity of idea and make their way on to story.

-d.d.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Generation S[EGA]

Generation S

This beauty comes via the 'Yard, off the back of an otherwise generally bland t-shirt that came with the legendary SEGAGAGA box set which Gagaman recently 'quired. I kifed his pic and cleaned it up a little in 'shop. If he's got a scanner he should just platen the thing and make stickers or something. Those hanging controllers are just the tits.1

-d.d.

1As Fat might say.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Six hail marguerita, we're going straight to hell!

Being a circular of items recently read by D.D. Tinzeroes, Number 2.



THE EXILE KISS
George Alec Effinger
(1991)

The third and final (published) volume of Effinger's Marid Audran Budayeen novels. Set in a near-future unnamed Arab city, which most resembles either Cairo or Damascus, I think. This one's probably the least sci-fi of the batch, really, with tech-elements serving only to provide plot leaps (but never a crutch). But then again, since the style of the Marid books is Sam Spade-in-Cairo, all these a really are is hard-boiled detective novels with some Godfather elements mixed in. The book's basically a big bedouin-in-the-desert sequence followed by a Marid-in-the-City section. Marid's goal is revenge, and his lessons in the desert aid him on his return to the city.1



BUDAYEEN NIGHTS
George Alec Effinger
(2003)

A collection of Effinger's short-stories, published after his death, dealing with the Budayeen district of his fictional desert city, including the first 2 chapters of the unfinished 4th Marid Audran novel. "City on the Sand" stands out, about a ex-pat (unpublished) author wiling away his days in front of a café.



LAST AND FIRST MEN
Olaf Stapledon
(1930)

What is the evolutionary future of man? When this topic comes up, I now just recite the crux of Stapledon's narrative. We are the First Men, according to a well-defined criteria set out by Stapledon. The Second Men are giants, 8-10 feet tall, because for the human brain to become larger, by extension, the body's frame must grow as well to support the overlarge skull. Stapledon carries this exercise on through several iterations, up to the 14th Men, who live on Uranus, I think (this is after stretches on Venus and Jupiter, and after the Sun goes red giant). Puts Sterling's Schismatrix in a new light, which was dedicated to Stapledon, and likewise involves several iterations of humanity.



WETWARE
Rudy Rucker
(1988)

The second installment in Rucker's ___ware series. In this one the creators of the boppers (sentient robots who live on the moon, because the freezing vacuum negates the need for super cooling systems for their circuitry) revive their dead creator, and set about the creation of a new race of biorobots which can live on earth. Includes one my favorite insights ever, observed by a bopper, that the two greatest flaws of humanity are boredom and selfishness. A quick read, lots of fun.



HEATSEEKER
John Shirley
(1989)

A collection of Shirley's short stories, supposedly the stuff which influenced and inspired Gibson, Sterling, Rucker, and the rest. There's really very little of the dystopian future type stuff here, and even less tech-stuff, really, but Shirley certain is a hotbed of ideas, I'll grant. The biggest disappointment here was that Shirley integrated bunch of these stories into the 2nd (mainly) and 3rd volumes of his Eclipse trilogy, which his right and privilege, and certainly explains a couple of somewhat tangential chapters in those volumes, but after identifying the first story w/ which he did so, there were a several others which I skipped since, technically, I'd already read them. Faves for me included: a bit about nuclear war being the result of Events, which are conscious entities, who destroy the earth to make it an exhibit for a sort of cosmic World's Fair, judged by Time itself; paintings in the modern art style are actually beings from another dimension, which come alive after reaching a critical mass of art (this story is, like, 2 pages long); a piece about getting in this egg-device and visiting heaven, which creates hell on earth for the poor; and (my favorite) a sort of stage-by-stage environmental narcotic tenement building in New York, the climax of which is a hypodermic set into the nipple of a massive boob-wall, through which you are shot up with the real personality of a real person.2

-d.d.

1 The cover art to the Marid novels are hilarious. The artist is trying to capture "future-arab" but his main way of doing this is to just throw a flying car in there, even though flying cars are no where to be found in the Marid novels. These covers are also part of the proud tradition of my wife mocking my reading choices based on terrible cover art... (men who look "gay," and women with inevitable visible cleavage).
2 I vividly recall reading this last story in the 2nd Eclipse book, while sitting at Basement Pub, waiting for Fat to show up.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

A pint of Lazarus straight up

I've been a pretty good tear with the reading of Stuff that I've not read before. Had this major THING 'bout back in '06 where I found out that you can use the internet to point you to authors and books that You Haven't Read based on authors and books that You Have Read. Amazing, right?! So off I went.

Six months later I did a list of every book I've read since 2000 or so and was somewhat embarassed to find that I'd read as much in the last 2 years as I had in the 6 years before that. The basic problem was I was just re-reading the same books (anything by Gibson) or not even exploring a given author's complete works (Sterling, Shirley) and just not taking the plunge with authors I knew about but never read (Rucker, Effinger).

I've been meaning to sketch out some opinions on these books, to generate a sort of autobibliography.



THE DIVINE INVASION
Philip K. Dick
(1981)

I believe this book has been kicking it between my bookshelf and bedside table for 4 or 5 years and I never got around to reading it. Vintage wonderful late-period Dick, complete with VALIS reference. In an alternative universe, Dick would be a (more widely read) theologian, me thinks. This title includes a marvelous description of pre-Judeo-Christian divine justice (its mathematic) versus what came after (litigative, in a sense).



KAMIKAZE L'AMOUR
Richard Kadrey
(1995)

World's Biggest Rockstar fakes death at rehab facility to get back to basics. Set in a future America beset by a Green Apocalypse: the Amazon started (re)growing at a rate a hundred-fold faster than men could cut it down. California surrendered to the jungle. Strange consequences. Descriptions of mostly Amazonianized San Francisco are fun. Personally somewhat irritated by cyberpunkian tendency of male protags to fuck their female counterparts shortly after meeting them. I'm not saying this doesn't happen: people meet, fuck, and go steady for awhile all the time. But that doesn't mean it happens ALL THE TIME, y'know?



SLAM
Lewis Shiner
(1990)

Shiner's prolly the most criminally ignored of the Cyperpunk authors. I adore his characters and I think his prose rivals Gibson's, if not slightly better. Effortless, makes you smile. Like Sterling, a Texas native, Shiner sets this one in Galveston and environs. A paltry tax-evasion ex-con goes on parole and tries to get his life together. Skaters, early internet stuff, nice insights about little things, about those little transcedent moments in life. Can't express how much great stuff in this fairly quick read.



ON STRANGER TIDES
Tim Powers
(1988)

Powers is always a romp, and his historical research is spot on, without being baroque about it (looking at you, Stephenson). Puppeteer (sigh) goes to Caribbean seeking revenge, ends up a pirate cook, meets Blackbeard, learns magic, so forth and so on. Power's systems of magic are a strong point of all his novels, precisely because they are systems, because they make so much sense the way he lays them out.



THE DIGGING LEVIATHAN
James Blaylock
(1984)

California residents self-styled as gentleman scientists seek route to the center of the earth, accompanied by and dependent on, as it turns out, an actual fish-boy. Blaylock and Powers went to school together and both knew Philip K. Dick. I've read a bit of Powers, but my Blaylock is limited to this single volume, and my verdict would be that Blaylock's the one more akin to Dick. The characters are strong but more deeply flawed, and you're never quite sure if events are actually transpiring or if its just crazy people being crazy.

-d.d.

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