“Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity—most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to begin with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide . . . though he's amiable enough, keeps cracking jokes back through the loudspeaker . . .”
Brand new LA history by the great California scholar, Mike Davis. This time the author of City of Quartz works with Jon Wiener to document the almost entirely forgotten radical moments and people that made up the decade of the sixties in LA. With short chapters each devoted to a different aspect, year, or group of people, Set the Night... is a fast and easy read that is reminiscent of Howard Zinn and makes a strong case for a People's history of Los Angeles's horizontal resistance to American Imperialism and all its attendant classism, racism, and misogyny.
Lee Camp is an accomplished comedian in the vein of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, but who has been ghettoized into some more obscure corners of the politically factionalized internet due to his uncompromising Left radicalism. His internet show, Redacted Tonight, functions as a palette cleansing answer to and parody of the de-clawed liberalism of the Daily Show or Full Frontal (but with a much smaller budget). Camp’s newsworthy comedy is always based on the excellent, but almost completely ignored investigative journalism of sites like the Intercept, the Grayzone, and Empire Files which helps his comedic ‘news coverage’ to be way ahead of the pack; sometimes exposing and highlighting stories that the mainstream press won’t touch for months until they reach critical mass and can no longer be ignored. The fact that PMPress published this collection of essays should be recommendation enough since they have the same devotion to muckraking, Leftist journalism.
An ambitious, long, Joycean monster of a novel by the most influential godfather of the modern graphic novel. Very baroque yet full of pathos and a still unjaded sense of wonder, this beast even has an entire chapter written (successfully) in the style of Finnegan's Wake. i was extremely impressed with the quality and depth of this book in spite of my own skepticism about whether or not a highly successful career as a writer of comics could translate well into a straight prose novel of epic proportions. Even at this late date, Alan Moore continues to please and surprise as well as prove himself a true literary figure outside of his already monumental achievements in genre oriented graphic lit.
This is probably the last major work that will be done on this subject. O’Neill spent twenty years working on this and is able to dig deeper and collect more actual data than I think anyone has before. His discovery of previously unseen documents and actual interviews with some of the major authority figures involved in the case is a game changer. This book convincingly suggests that there was more going on in this historical moment than we will probably ever know. But even with all speculation aside O’Neill seems to, at the least, have proven that Bugliosi manipulated the narrative and witnesses in the court and in his book, Helter Skelter, and should not be trusted as a reliable source. Depending on how you feel about the historic importance and resonance of these murders and the Family, Chaos either compellingly places these events in the archetypal realm of the Black Dahlia story as another example of probable cover-ups by the Powerful to protect the seedy underbelly of Tinseltown, or if you’re convinced by O’Neill’s speculations about the CIA, the Manson murders seem to rise to the same level of grand cultural debate as the Kennedy assassinations. Pretty mind blowing stuff either way.
On one hand a grand space opera about the colonizing of the solar system that is rooted in and influenced by the style of hard-scifi found in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, but on the other it is the swashbuckling adventures of a small crew of misfit ruanaways and criminals, a la Firefly. Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Franck is actually the reason I tried these out, knowing that he is a longtime protégé of George RR Martin and, I suspect, possible inheritor of finishing the Song of Ice and Fire series. So I wasn’t surprised to find The Expanse novels to be tightly constructed, imaginative, and riveting genre fiction with sophisticated politics and characters rich in pathos reminiscent of Iain Banks’s Culture series. Martin has obviously passed on his years of experience writing for TV to ’Corey’, as each chapter is shrewdly structured to end with subtle cliffhangers that beg for a ‘cut to commercial’. As such, it’s no surprise that it actually has been turned into an impressive TV show on the Syfy network; probably the best thing of its kind since Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. TV aside, I adore this series and find each of these novels to be constructed with much more care than one would usually find in something so invested in the tropes of pulp fiction, each one subtly engaging in real world issues that are still completely believable and relevant even in a 23rd century setting.
It’s almost impossible to tell what this book is about by looking at the front or back cover. Lagalisse is an anthropologist from the London School of Economics. She has bravely decided to work against the grain of her peers here in order to deal directly with the history of prevalent conspiracy theories, the occult, Western radicalism, and how all these things are tied together through history and/or misinformation. Actually, her main agenda is to clarify these complex intersections in service to a strong feminist argument against the hidden patriarchal tendencies in Western culture and politics that she traces all the way back through St. Augustine to the ancient Hermetic tradition. Still, I know this is not conveying how fascinating this book is. It’s concise, easy to read, and packed with ideas and observations that are jaw dropping. In that sense, it’s the most exciting thing of its kind that I’ve found since I discovered Hakim Bey’s TAZ or David Graeber’s Fragments of… If any of this seems vaguely tantalizing you should just trust me that this book is awesome.
The title alone should be enough of an intrigue to get your attention. Hakim Bey is probably the most popular American writer that no one has ever heard of (check out how many websites are linked to him). For those in the know, Bey is easily the most cutting edge and controversial political philosopher at the end of this American Century. I would go so far as to say that he has the ability to approach common problems of 20th century politics with the same lateral-thinking genius that Einstein brought to 19th century physics; he sidesteps the implicit and invisible assumptions of most political dialogue, treating social change as a zen koan and anarchism as Western culture's crass attempt at something equivalent to Taoism. I promise that you've never read anything quite like this.
(ed.- i wrote this review before the turn of the century. i still stand behind most of what's said here, but these days, for 'cutting edge', i would refer you to the more recent work of anthropologist, David Graeber.)
A fascinating exploration of the effect conspiracy theory has had on American culture and discourse. Mr. Knight does an excellent job of clarifying the diverse phenomena and definitions which have become attached to the phrase "conspiracy theory", in the process building an impressive theory of conspiracy as the meta-narrative currently acting in our culture to help us process the overwhelming and contradictory information we are all exposed to daily. Includes some great lit-crit stuff about Delillo and Pynchon and an amazing chapter on popular Feminism as conspiracy theory that forces the reader to reevaluate the merits of conspiracy thinking.
This first work by the famous French philosopher was written when he was only 21 years old at the behest of his Freudian therapist. Although short enough to read in one sitting, this story embodies all the major themes that were to become his life's work: sex, death, violence, critique of Western dualist thought, and the search for enlightenment through extreme self-debasement. Its obsession with the harsh visceral nature of human existence is, paradoxically, intensely spiritual, inexplicably making this probably the most erotically charged novel I have ever read.
Goodman is the Edward R. Murrow, the Walter Cronkite of our generation. Ironically, her own investigative work makes it clear why people like herself have no voice in the mainstream media anymore. This book is a highly recommended antidote to Pravda...I mean Fox News.
This is easily Delillo's best work, combining the pathos of "Libra" with the cultural criticism of "White Noise"; a meditation on baseball, garbage, J. Edgar Hoover and the Bomb. "Underworld" may very well be the novel that captures the zeitgeist of the end of this American century.
The first, and still one of the best deconstructions of the lies that we're taught in school about what it means to be an 'American'. Howard Zinn is the high school teacher I wish I’d had. In interviews he described himself as a self-taught historian even though he has a Ph.D. from Columbia. His point is that almost all of the material in his “People’s History…” had to be discovered and researched independently as none of it was ever part of his professional education. And that’s the point; this book covers history that is almost never part of the curriculum. From the first page, where he quotes Columbus advocating a policy of deception in order to enslave the natives, to one of the last chapters, where he documents Clinton’s quiet dismantling of the New Deal, habeas corpus, and the 1st amendment, Zinn is unrelenting in his condemnation of the myth of American History. It is, by turns, engrossing, depressing, and enraging, but it is never boring. This is the book that taught us the true meaning of American Ingenuity.
Speculative fiction: Post-scarcity/anarchism/cultural imperialism… More well known to readers of ‘straight’ fiction as the author of the ‘Wasp Factory’, Banks is also well known for his interconnected sci-fi novels. Most of these novels are set against the backdrop of a civilization known as ‘The Culture’. Made up of many different species, the Culture travels, nomad like, on giant, sentient ships and represent the very model of a post-scarcity anarchist society. They want for nothing and can basically do whatever they want. Banks creates conflict by structuring these novels from the point of view of a protagonist who is outside of, or resisting the Culture for religious or political reasons. This allows Banks’ work to be not only a meditation on the economic theory of post-scarcity, but also on the inherent conflicts caused by cultural imperialism. All these novels are excellent and Banks is a master of juxtaposing the macro-scaled elements of the story with the real wit and pathos found on the micro-scale of the characters' lives.
Most of the best that Pop Culture has to offer these days (X-Files, Simpsons, Hip-Hop, Buffy, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, etc.) exhibits a distinct interest in the same ideas, techniques and self-aware anxieties that were part of the high literary challenge of the great masters of the middle of the 20th century (Pynchon, Gaddis, Barth, Coover, etc.). The interesting, maybe ironic, thing now is how that post-modern sensibility has now returned to its original medium in the works of DFW, Eggers, Danielewski and now Carson, but with the distinctly user-friendly attitude we expect from Pop. In fact, Carson's new novel may be the most successful in bringing this heady tradition to the average reader. By examining the American century through the eyes of the characters from a bad 60's TV show, he has created a rich and layered text that is by turns hilarious, poignant and sharply critical without marginalizing itself with overwrought prose. I'm hoping this one will be big with the kids in '03.
If you're wondering what possible connection there could be between UFOs, John Dillinger, Aleister Crowley, JFK, H.P. Lovecraft, Nazis, atlantis, Albert Einstein, quantum physics, freemasonry, LSD, the CIA, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, George Washington, marijuana, the Knights Templar, Hassan I Sabbah, Karl Marx, numerology, the I Ching, the Rosicrucians, the Comte de St. Germain, Buckminster Fuller, Timothy Leary, Wilhelm Reich, Emperor Norton, Al Capone, Henry Ford, Stonehenge, and the Lost Continent of Mus... then this is the book for you. The pop culture classic that made 'conspiracy theory' a dirty word.
Anyone who is a fan of the work of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling should already be familiar with Mr. Shirley; if not, take heed. Both Gibson and Sterling have been known to sing his praises in interviews and both cite him as influential to their work. He is included in every cyberpunk anthology that I know of and is considered part of the pantheon. Unfortunately, most of his work has been out of print for years; it being the victim of the rise to power of the marketing dept. in publishing houses. Now that may be changing with the release of two collections of stories and the reissue of the "A Song Called Youth" (or "Eclipse" trilogy). The trilogy is considered one of the lost masterpieces of the cyberpunk genre. I personally spent almost five years tracking down all three volumes in used bookstores and am glad I did. Now's your chance.
The last great Pynchon novel. A massively dense quilt of turn-of-the-century literary and pulp fiction styled vignettes; a hilarious and heartbreaking deconstruction of the American dream in the age of Robber Barons and World Fairs. Against the Day seems unusual for his work in that instead of being obviously rich with vertically organized layers of subtext, this one seems more horizontally crushed with narrative; short story after short story with multiple recurring characters done in diverse writing styles that invoke JulesVerne, H.G. Wells, and any number of dime store novels and penny dreadfuls. Also, for fans who’ve always suspected Pynchon of anarchist leanings, AtD seems to be a much more openly political and sometimes angry novel; more along the lines of Vineland’s bitter critique than the more oblique criticisms of Gravity’s Rainbow. A must read for the initiated.
Easily the best psychological exploration of this most famous of villains since Alan Moore’s ‘The Killing Joke’. The choice of criminal protégé as narrator works brilliantly and the juxtaposition of the passionate, scenery chewing Joker with the omnipresent, but offstage and cold-as-ice Batman throws an almost sympathetic light on the ultimate nihilist. The finest moments are scenes that subtly and smartly suggest that rather than being a true sociopath, Joker actually cares very deeply about his place in the world and especially about the opinion of the Batman. Azzerello’s work here easily ranks alongside the other classic texts of these archetypal American myths and has the potential to be part of the pantheon of great stories that taught us not to be embarrassed about our love of comics.
In 1984 William Gibson changed the face of Science Fiction when he published his first novel, "Neuromancer". Overnight serious SF abandoned its jingoistic-epic tradition and became a contemporary forum for dystopian social commentary. "Neuromancer" single-handedly created the sub-genre of Cyberpunk; a literary trend that dominates SF books and films to this day. Gibson's ability to extrapolate current social trends into the near future, and his concern for the classic existential elements of 20th century literature make him one of the few serious speculative fiction authors of the last twenty years. In that first book, Gibson coined phrases and invented concepts that we now take for granted in pop culture; and his handling of the potential of virtual reality raises disturbing philosophical issues that read very much like the mystical paranoia of Philip K. Dick. His work since "Neuromancer" has consistently dealt with these literary and philosophical themes.
Orlando Figes is a middle of the road British social democrat; a trait that works to his advantage in his extensive new history of the Russian Revolution. It's very difficult to find a work on this subject that is not either a rabid rightwing tract (Richard Pipes), or an apology for the Bolshevik abuses (Edward Hallett Carr). Figes work, though, seems to reflect a more sophisticated post cold-war position that recognizes the legitimacy of the revolution without placing the credit and/or blame solely in the hands of Lenin and his cronies. By placing his sympathies with the faceless peasants and urban poor rather than the few well known urban intellectuals that most histories depend on, Figes position on the subject seems surprisingly close to the almost forgotten critiques of the Revolution offered by the anarchists of the day; Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman both praised what was happening early on as a great spontaneous uprising of the nation, and both condemned the Bolsheviks for what amounted to a Coup by a small group of controlling elitist intellectuals that, in a very short time, crushed the inherently democratizing nature of the uprising. On the other hand, Figes does not make the mistake of most polemicists by ignoring the brutal ignorance of the peasants and working poor; by closely following the life of Gorky, his early work with the peasantry and his later disillusionment with the revolution, Figes shows how the masses were constantly metaphorically shooting themselves in the foot, creating more than enough hysteria and fear to provoke even the mildest of authoritarian tendencies. The one glaring weakness I was able to find in this work was Figes laughable sympathy for the Romanov family. Only a British scholar could lament Russia's lost opportunity for a smooth transition to a British-Monarchist style democracy. Luckily, this stuff is only in the early chapters so it wasn't too difficult to get through. Solid reading for anyone interested in the event that truly set the standard for the 20th century.
A few years ago I came across an essay in an issue of the Village Voice Literary supplement by a more or less unknown author named Jonathan Lethem who was arguing that the science fiction community had betrayed its own potential when it refused, in 1974, to give the Hugo or Nebula award to a novel nominated that year by the name of 'Gravity's Rainbow'. Of course, this caught my attention and I've been watching Lethem's career ever since. Around the time of the essay in the VVLS, Lethem's work tended to be thought of as ambitious, but not very successful literary sci-fi. In 2000 he garnered a lot of praise and a National Book Critics award for his book Motherless Brooklyn; a formulaic mystery novel with the added wordplay created by a narrator with Tourett's syndrome. This started out very strong, but seemed to become bored with itself by the end. So, for me, Lethem's work always seemed to be on the verge, but never quite successful. Well, so, the point here obviously being that his new work, The Fortress of Solitude, is the novel which has finally placed him in the (very small) company of truly respectable American writers. Fortress is an ambitious work that paints a vivid portrait of urban America in the last half of the 20th century that resonates with the same awareness of time, place, and the unspoken and embarrassing truth about ourselves that I think is compelling in the work of early 20th century writers such as Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and John Dos Passos. Some passages of Fortress are simply beautiful to read, exhibiting a control of the English language that I rarely find in many of the popular contemporary writers (Chabon and Eggers come to mind as failures here). Lethem's sensitive and expert handling of pop-culture history makes it shockingly apparent how little real, successful work has been done that can represent the truly poignant childhood memories of the gen-x for a world filled with Hannah-Barbera cartoons, comic books, and the great rock-funk-soul-punk era of music. The literature of the boomer generation has so saturated our awareness with that particular generation's pop-culture concerns that we tend to not even recognize it as such until a writer like Lethem points out the validity of a younger experience; not in a tongue in cheek way like Douglas Coupland, but with a humble seriousness that pays respect to his own generation. He even goes so far as to incorporate what might be called a "magical realism" element that is a direct and unapologetic homage to a generation raised on comic books. What is most impressive about Fortress, however, is the way Lethem is able to make these different elements revolve effortlessly around the true core of this novel: an unflinching meditation on the effects of race and class in a post civil-rights era world. As seen through the eyes of a young white boy growing up in an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood in the 70s, the world of Fortress slowly unveils the last quarter of America's 20th century as a schizophrenic battle between the triumph of African-American culture even as it is buried under the yolk of poverty and Crack, and the love/hate relationship that white America has always had with the Other. Dylan, the young white protagonist, loves his black friend Mingus and wants to be accepted by his neighbors even as he fears their attention. And as the characters and the novel grow, the tragic shame of America's prison-industrial complex is mirrored by Dylan's withdrawal from his responsibilities to his friend and his past. With this novel Lethem has joined the small, but growing, ranks of great American gen-x writers such as William Vollman and David Foster Wallace. The Fortress of Solitude may turn out to be one of the representative novels of my generation. Charles.
With a baroque architecture built around the simple premise of a murder mystery, this is an ambitious work by first-time novelist, Pessl. Structured like a syllabus for a postmodern course in literature, the novel is narrated by a vaguely unlikable and precocious highschool student whose voice could be straight out of something by Nabokov. Hoping for great things from this young author.
Barzun’s writing reminds me of an old library filled with antique furniture, a fireplace and soft lighting; it’s comfortable, erudite and friendly. Born in 1907, Barzun has written thirty books and has been working in his field since the 1920’s. Written with an ease that discourages any questioning of his authority, "From Dawn to Decadence" is an excellent introduction to all things Western. Although there were sections of opinion that I would tend to disagree with, he writes with such reasonable calm and empathy for his subjects that I found it impossible to become frustrated with him. In fact, the difference in his age and point of view became an unintentional bonus for me; giving me a glimpse into a brilliant mind that was developed during the height of Modernism in the early twentieth century and tempered through the dawn of a new millennium.
This author's first novel seems to aspire to the kind of artistic tightrope act that I've come to love; work that strikes a balance between the heights of the avant garde and the depths of pop culture not unlike Sonic Youth's music or Stanley Kubrick's filmmaking. Danielewski has tried to place the meaning and purpose of this novel, at least partly, in the typography and page layout itself; an ambitious piece of literary deconstruction. On the other hand, the core of the story is surprisingly simple; the kind of gothic horror tale you would find in any H.P. Lovecraft collection. This is well worth the reader's effort and if nothing else, the book itself is beautiful to look at.
For years i waited for a book to come along with the same exciting qualities as Hakim Bey's "T.A.Z"; terse, philosophically challenging, a synthesis of brilliant ideas, a manifesto for a new generation's resistance. Graeber's book actually met those requirements and confirmed my suspicions about the potential for radical analysis within the Anthropological discipline. Years later, Graeber would become famous for his book Debt and his involvement with Occupy Wall Street, but before all that this tiny book was a refreshing and accessible look at our culture's general inability to think outside the box and a clear explanation of some commonsense ideas that simply needed to be put into words. Within he discusses how subtle, anti-authoritarian systems and cultures are already existing in the world now, but are invisible to the average person who lives trapped by cliches like, "anarchist organization? Isn't that an oxymoron?" Ha Ha. This book is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the utopian project of envisioning the possibilities for a better world, or anyone who would like a template for understanding how 5,000 years of patriarchal, authoritarian history is actually just a pinprick on the human timeline that obscures better options for society that have existed before and still do now.
Abercrombie is one of the next gen Low Fantasy writers who seems to have been deeply influenced by George RR Martin; bloody, cynical swords & sorcery with any moral clarity being represented by it's shear absence in the decision making of the characters within. so far, his work consists of a series of six loosely interconnected novels that are well constructed and thoroughly enjoyable. the real prize to be found here, however, is the way each of the novels is designed as an homage and/or a parody of a particular literary template. the first three are a cynics version of Tolkien; the fourth is very much a Dumas novel; the fifth, Tim O'Brien; the sixth, a pastiche of John Ford and Eastwood Westerns. it sounds gimmicky, but they're actually rich in pathos and humor and leave me eager for more.
Sapkowski, a beloved author in his native land, has been referred to as the Tolkien of Poland. His series of books following the adventures of Geralt the Witcher were the inspiration for the video games of the same name. Sapkowski's hero and his tales are such a cultural badge of honor for Poland that President Obama was gifted a copy of one of the games when he visited Poland in 2011. as a devotee of the games i decided to check out the source material and was very pleased to find Sapkowski's work to be a sincere, highly entertaining deconstruction of world folk and fairy tale tropes. Geralt the Witcher exists in a cynical and brutal alternate version of middle ages Europe that is filled with deadly wonders, pathos, and humor. the first volume of stories, The Last Wish, not only establishes the character and his world, but is a dark and hilarious send-up of such famous stories as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. having begun this series in the 80's, Sapkowski's work actually precedes the creation of the now popular genre of 'grimdark' that is generally credited to George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and would easily be part of that canon if it had first appeared in English. however, the Witcher stories' engagement with this kind of bloody cynicism feels far less self conscious to me than the work of his more famous peers. for me, what makes Sapkowski's work so successful, and sometimes heartbreaking, is that rather than purposefully trying to deconstruct the Tolkien tradition, his world building seems to flow very organically from his own Central European point of view; a way of storytelling that inherently filters any sparkly, Disneyfied fairy tale through the lens of real centuries of invasion, occupation, pogroms, and devastation. Both the books and the games are dear to me and highly recommended.
The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
For about six months after finishing these books I seriously wanted to move to Mars. Robinson’s hard science makes the whole venture seem possible and his invocation of a classically American revolutionary and frontier spirit makes it painfully desirable. By the end of the third volume Robinson has laid out three generations of complex, believable characters that I didn’t want to leave behind. More subtle are the allegorical aspects of the story and characters that quietly evoke Ray Bradbury’s efforts at dealing with the myth of Mars. This series ability to express our growing claustrophobia, anxiety, and guilt for the impending possible demise of life on earth only becomes more relevant with time. All in all, one of the best scifi epics I’ve ever read.
An excellent cyberpunk novel in the tradition of William Gibson, but with the bloody cynicism of George RR Martin. As well, Morgan’s work bears comparison with the great writers of the Marxist-Scottish scifi tradition like Ken Macleod and Iain Banks. At heart, Altered Carbon is based on the template of a Raymond Chandler noir, but a couple of simple scifi conceits and a hyper awareness of class struggle make this novel greater than the sum of it’s parts.
The first novel by the brilliant screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.In true Kaufman fashion, this novel is extremely 'meta' and breaks the 5th and 6th wallsas well as the fourth and is painfully engaged with the inner turmoil and existential angst ofits very unlikeable narrator. hilarious and rich stuff for fans of this very odd writer.