INTELLIGENT DISCUSSIONS ABOUT ART’S ROLE in shaping cultures and individuals have to recognize the difference between censorship (an external restraint based on fear and loathing) and self-control (an internal restraint arising from the artist’s desire to communicate).
FIRST CAME CYBERPUNK. THEN STEAMPUNK. And by 2021, … RETROPUNK.
Shiny robots. Gleaming atom-powered spaceships. Martian canal races. Alien arcologies in the jungles of Venus. Male pronouns. All the glory of a big exploitable universe sans angst or post-apocalypse modernism. AND NO %$#@!ING VAMPIRES.
Remember, you heard it here first. “Retropunk: Yesterday’s Future, Today!”
Illo thanx: public-domain.zorger.com
WITH THE RIGHT BOOK, YOU can wait anywhere for anything.
“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
– Author and critic HARLAN ELLISON, my first inspiration and longtime influence, as quoted on http://www.advicetowriters.com, a website worth visiting
PASS IT ON. (WHY? BECAUSE, as Stewart Sternberg, who got the idea following a Twilight fan’s public ignorance of same, puts it: “(W)e owe it to ourselves to promote quality work and to invite the young into our fold, giving them a perspective and understanding of the traditions and tropes of our literary world … how it has helped us vent our angst, voice our identity, and celebrate our optimism.”
Science fiction (which I first grokked when I was seven; I didn’t discover fantasy until I was 15) taught me that things were possible outside my 1960s New Jersey existence: that some day, we might have space stations, an international computer network, cleaning robots and two-way TV — not to mention an understanding between races and nationalities that there are more exciting human games than trying to whack each other lifeless. Learning that others shared these secret goshwow dreams has, in some cases, helped me face another day; “being” a science fiction fan feels like membership in a vast underground culture of people who get it. That’s probably common to many in the pre-postpunk and earlier demographics but may not be so now that multimedia SF (film, TV, videogame, webcast) is more dominant than the book-and-zine scene of our youth — before Google and Harry Potter, or cheap access and cultural prevalence, science fiction and its acolytes led a more furtive existence. But the camaraderie’s the same — and likely always will be.
In short: Those who know not the joys of Vance and Bester, Leiber and Brown, Ellison and Sturgeon, Asimov and Clarke, or even bookbound Tolkien are, Arthur-like, unaware of their great heritage; from the first murmurs of Capek and Gernsback to today’s CGI-fueled cyberdreams — and those of us who remember the past are obligated to teach it. Squa tront!)
FROM THE NOVEL “GOLDFINGER,” page 056 of the Penguin Centenary edition:
Bond sat back. He was prepared to listen to anyone who was master of his subject, any subject.
(This is one of those quotes that keeps coming into my mind when speaking with anybody about anything they know well and love, especially if they know and love it better than I do. Everyone’s an expert on something. Pass it on.)
SO FAR, IT HAS TAKEN me two years to read Herman Melville’s classic of monomania and cetology, mostly because I don’t want to finish. And so I haven’t, yet.
It’s the language. Melville rolls so many word-clad notions around his tongue, and flips them into and between your ears with such easy fluidity, that it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s digressing (which he does, for most of the book). We fancy moderns with our choice of storytellers and interpretations know how the story goes, or at least how it ends, before we read it. That’s an advantage of sorts over the initial 1851 audience, one which lets us concentrate instead on the journey — since, despite its encyclopedic treatment of whales, the men who hunt them, and the global economy resulting therefrom, we might miss the fact that Moby-Dick isn’t really about whaling at all, at all.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
SINCE 1970, LARRY NIVEN HAS written four books and a number of articles concerning the Ringworld: an Earth’s orbit-diameter ribbon made from disassembled planets and populated by its builders with all manner of adaptive species, each with its own culture and agenda.
Who built it? Why? And what caused its civilization — one vastly superior to 29th century Known Space — to fall so abruptly? These questions are at the core of the eponymous first novel, where two humans — 200-year-old Louis Wu and his 20ish inamorata, Teela Brown — join the aliens Speaker-to-Animals (a Kzin, something like an ironic feline wookiee) and Nessus the Puppeteer (a three-legged, two-headed galactic captain of commerce) in an exploratory mission to the mysterious structure.
Neal’s bias: Classics, especially for those with a heavy worldbuilding fetish, although Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers also stand alone fairly well. I enjoyed the first two novels immensely;The Ringworld Throne I thought better the second time (but was close to the Eight Deadly Words on first read) and Ringworld’s Children largely for how The Master integrates (the technical term is “retcons“) the latest cosmological theories on dark matter and the like. Four rockets. Check ‘em out.
In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.
His foot-length queue was as white and shiny as artificial snow. His skin and depilated scalp were chrome yellow; the irises of his eyes were gold; his robe was royal blue with a golden stereoptic dragon superimposed. In the instant he appeared, he was smiling widely, showing pearly, perfect, perfectly standard teeth. Smiling and waving. But the smile was already fading, and in a moment it was gone, and the sag of his face was like a rubber mask melting. Louis Wu showed his age. …
“GENTLE FUN FOR ENGLISH TAOISTS” is as good a description as any of A. A. Milne’s two booksful of stories of the Hundred-Acre Wood’s most famous resident. These are not children’s tales any more than “Bullwinkle” or “Le Morte d’Arthur” are children’s tales: unless it’s for the child that reawakens in us when we read these stories. (And yes, S*TO*R*I*E*S: If you only know Pooh through Disney, you don’t know Pooh.) NOTE: That reawakened child may have difficulty getting through the increasingly nostalgic-for-what’s-lost second volume House at Pooh Corner; I personally will never read the last story again without handkerchief or, better, towel. But this excerpt is from the very first story in Winnie the Pooh, titled “Chapter One, In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, and the Stories Begin:”
Here is Edward bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t. Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you. Winnie-the-Pooh.
IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH OF 1974, science-fiction author Philip K. Dick had a series of experiences which might have been psychosis, hallucination or divine grace. Phil often tended toward the last explanation, at least in print, and based a handful of novels (and more than a million pages of exegesis) on trying to figure out what happened to him. VALIS is one such novel; its thesis (in part): through an ancient satellite named VALIS (for Vast Active Living Intelligence System), a rock and roll musical, and a little girl, God or something like It is trying to comfort us all — most especially the broken ones. There’s much more to it, but this — and the fact that Phil once lived around the corner from where I live now — is what makes VALIS this week’s First Graf pick.
Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now, she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more, to be on the safe side.
THE TITLED BOOK IS PART of a trilogy, and it’s hard to say it’s the “first” part since Robert Anton Wilson wrote Schrodinger’s Cat such that the reader can open any of its constituents (The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat and The Homing Pigeons) at any point and begin reading (as Charles Fort said, “One measures a circle beginning anywhere”). The text, in chapters of two- to four-page pastiches, follows (in part) a couple dozen compassionately well-drawn “everymen,” and the cumulative effect is three or four unique and intertwined storylines that play hob with the reader’s perceptions of reality and deliver a crash course in James Joyce, Wilhelm Reich, black-market economics, quantum physics, Jungian psychology, little-L libertarianism, Western mysticism, some fairly hot weird-science and a lot of sharply empathetic humor: “The story herein is set in a variety of parallel universes in which most of the politicians are thieves and most of the theologians are maniacs. These universes have nothing in common with our own world, of course. Of course.”
from The Universe Next Door
The majority of Terrans were six-legged. They had territorial squabbles and politics and wars and a caste system. They also had sufficient intelligence to survive on that barren boondocks planet for several billions of years.
We are not concerned here with the majority of Terrans. We are concerned with a tiny minority — the domesticated primates who built cities and wrote symphonies and invented things like tic-tac-toe and integral calculus. At the time of our story, these primates regarded themselves as the Terrans. The six-legged majority and other life-forms on that planet hardly entered into their thinking at all, most of the time.
THIS MOST ELEGANT OF STOPPARD plays is, I think, best viewed live — the 1990 film
, for all its polish, loses something as it’s translating. Live it should be: for “live” is what it’s about, and specifically but not exclusively: Does life make a sound without someone else to hear it? Or is it a series of borderless scenes with no walk-off? These are the questions pondered by two minor characters from Hamlet
as they wait for something to happen. No one knows the answers, but one thing is certain: the curtain will, inexorably, fall.
For me, R&C’r'D will always be the stuff of all-night wordbinges laughing with friends into the post-adolescent dawn; the perfect accessory to a 1970′s high-school backpack stuffed with On The Road, Tao Teh Ching and the latest issue of Heavy Metal.
Two ELIZABETHANS in a place without any visual character.
They are well dressed — hats, cloaks, sticks and all.
Each of them has a large leather moneybag.
GUILDENSTERN’s bag is nearly empty.
ROSENCRANTZ’s bag is nearly full.
The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: GUILDENSTERN (hereafter “GUIL”) takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall. ROSENKRANTZ (hereafter “ROS”) studies it, announces it as “heads” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this for some time.