Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Desperate


Alexandrine Ogundimu Desperate (2020)
In which, it might be argued, Amphetamine Sulphate somehow slip a title in amongst the yuletide canon inhabited by A Christmas Carol, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas and others by virtue of V, the central focus of Desperate, spending the happiest time of year with family and taking entirely non-ironic delight in all its trappings. V is some sort of student of literature resident in New York, just about getting by, drinking more than seems advisable, and occasionally standing upon a subway platform wondering what might happen should he step in front of the next train.

It would probably be lazy to describe Desperate as stream of consciousness, although that's sort of what it is with its long, long paragraph length recursive, rambling sentences following V through the landscape of his own approximately functional existence; but the effect is a kind of sensory overload which works very well in conveying a sense of the territory, the disorientation, and occasional excursions away from the sexual mainstream. It feels somehow like a map of New York and, for my money, does a better job of it than Steve Finbow's Mindshaft - the last Amphetamine Sulphate title I read - not least because it's shorter and sharper, yet not without a certain tender quality; also because the text somehow lends itself to the cadence of Lydia Lunch.

I'm very glad Amphetamine Sulphate hasn't completely turned its back on the chapbook format because this otherwise might not have seen the light of day, and it's a cracker. Once again I'm impressed by how each new addition to the catalogue seems to bring something different to the table.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Time Tolls for Toro


Robert Moore Williams Time Tolls for Toro (2014)
Regular readers may possibly be aware that I've developed a bit of a fascination with Robert Moore Williams, generally overlooked author of an almost uniquely peculiar body of science-fiction writing. He was a populist who churned them out, very much at home in the digests and so easily dismissed as pulp, and while his writing style allows for the occasional poetic flourish, he reads very much as the self-taught enthusiast bashing them out without concessions to literature or even basic literary conventions. His stories tend to follow their own internal logic, probably made up as he went along complete with disorientating dramatic swerves and elements which seem so poorly fitted to the narrative that it's tempting to think of Williams as having been the science-fiction equivalent of Henri Rousseau or L.S. Lowry.

Yet beyond the occasionally tangible influence of Abraham Merritt's hard-boiled adventure, Williams writing always seems to hint at some intense pseudo-spiritual undercurrent, something almost theosophical and doubtless drawn from the author's own idiosyncratic understanding of reality, itself informed by his schizophrenia; so even when he's writing what amounts to a hard-boiled thriller with some minor element which just about tips it over into science-fiction, it feels somehow biblical in essence. As may not come as much of a surprise from the above description, he was approximately living on the same island as A.E. van Vogt, and given van Vogt's significantly having influenced Philip K. Dick, it probably shouldn't raise too many eyebrows that 1950's Danger is My Destiny - one of the eleven short stories in this collection - features a detective on the trail of a suspect who turns out to be himself; and the other ten stories are of equivalent quality - both wonky and startling, or containing startling ideas, at the same time.

After six novels by this guy, I've anticipated a degree of burn out, as can often occur with the work of those taking what may seem like an exclusively intuitive approach, but it hasn't happened yet; and while some of these are clearly the work of someone who wasn't playing with quite the same deck as the rest of us, there's always something new and unexpected thrown up by the sparkly, crackly energy of Williams' narrative.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Close Encounters of the Third Kind


Archie Goodwin, Walt Simonson & Klaus Janson
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978)

Having been obsessed with science-fiction and flying saucers as a kid, I'd pretty much already decided Close Encounters was the greatest movie of all time before I even bought this adaptation at my local newsagent, let alone seen the thing - partially based on my sincerely held belief that it revealed the truth and was probably made so as to get us all accustomed to the idea of extraterrestrial life, meaning we wouldn't shit ourselves when the big day came - as it definitely would. Unfortunately, as I eventually came to realise, once you subtract this emotional upswell of belief from the equation, Close Encounters barely even counts as a story, the plot being bloke sees flying saucer and believes they are real, which they are. Much as I loved the movie as a kid, probably mostly thanks to Doug Trumbull, by the time Spielberg issued the remix with an extra ten minutes of Richard Dreyfuss crying, even I'd begun to doubt.

So what am I to make of a comic book impersonating something which was never as amazing as I maybe thought it was, and which doesn't even have the advantage of all which Mr. Trumbull wrought with squeezy bottles and bits of Airfix kits, and which I bought entirely because I remember having it as a kid?

Well, a lot of memory sherbert went off, as you might expect, but it's additionally interesting for the reason that I had no idea who Walt Simonson or Klaus Janson were at the age of thirteen; and if they would go on to draw better, even here you can feel the formative greatness emanating from the page. The double page splash of the mothership near the end is not only fucking gorgeous but an entirely acceptable substitute for Doug Trumbull. It helps that Archie Goodwin always knew his way around a typewriter, and was particularly a master at the sort of chatty narrative which Alan Moore had banned because comic book panels which pretend to be a fancy foreign film will always be much cooler, so what story there is to be had, is told well, and - crucially - is told in about thirty minutes as distinct from a patience testing couple of screen hours. It was a decent film for the most part, but a decent film mainly because it distracts you from its own massively sappy message about what happens when you wish upon a star; and somehow I prefer the comic book.

Monday, 4 January 2021

So You've Been Publicly Shamed


Jon Ronson So You've Been Publicly Shamed (2016)
It's a coincidence that I read this immediately following something by Andrea Dworkin, herself significantly publicly shamed for being the wrong sort of lesbian, but I suppose this kind of thing has been on my mind of late. Here Ronson unpacks the mechanics of media outrage, both social and tabloid, revealing the whole thing to be more complicated than one might imagine from a quick glance at whoever last described you as worse than Hitler. Indeed, the complexity is such as to seem comparable to Dworkin's arguments in Intercourse in terms of how the subject seems to inform the entire dynamic of our society, and to additionally provide pointers as to much that is wrong with it. It's shocking, mostly depressing, but argued with a lively wit and where Ronson finds anything positive to be had from his investigation, he makes sure we know about it.

As with Intercourse, here we find pointers as to means by which we might actually make the world a less shittier place, but as usual we probably won't take any notice, instead preferring to carry on in the same stupid direction as before, not one lesson learned; but at least Ronson has given it his best shot.

I've never been entirely convinced by this guy, I must admit, having initially taken him for a slightly more weasely Louis Theroux. I liked the Goats book, but disliked that reimagined Frank Sidebottom movie quite profoundly. So You've Been Publicly Shamed on the other hand feels substantial and unusually nourishing given the subject, with none of the slightly prurient taint which I perhaps imagined informed his previous undertakings.


Monday, 28 December 2020

Lord of the Flies


William Golding Lord of the Flies (1954)
I was approaching the point at which it had begun to feel almost embarrassing to admit I'd never read Lord of the Flies. I recall my mother owning a copy with a severed pig's head on the cover but it wasn't among those few titles half-heartedly shunted in our direction at school, and I never saw the movie either; so it seemed like time.

As I'm sure you all know, it's about a bunch of kids getting marooned on an island and acting like wankers - which I believe was actually Golding's original title. Published in 1954 and without bothering to check, it strikes me as likely that it may have been inspired by the populist politics which brought about the second world war, and more specifically how so many people fell hook, line and sinker for all that rabble-rousing tribal bullshit. Lord of the Flies also therefore works fairly well as a commentary upon our own times, and so much so that I'm surprised no point-missing edgelord twat has yet claimed it for a warning against the perils of socialism, as has happened with Orwell's 1984 on a couple of bewildering occasions. It does approximately the same thing as Conrad's Heart of Darkness - positing that we are all capable of acting like wankers - and has the sort of unambiguously direct impact which justifies its reputation as a classic.

All the same, I really didn't enjoy it like I thought I would. Golding's prose is mostly tight and functional with an occasional flourish of admittedly dark poetry, but unfortunately spattered with slightly clumsy passages which cause the narrative to stumble somewhat, such as when Ralph allows the swollen flap of his cheek to close his eye again at the beginning of chapter eleven. He's been in a fight, so I assume he's been punched in the face - although it isn't specifically mentioned so far as I can see - but a flap?



Simon was speaking almost in his ear. Ralph, found that he had rock painfully gripped in both hands, found his body arched, the muscles of his neck stiff, his mouth strained open.

'You'll get back to where you came from.'

Simon nodded as he spoke. He was kneeling on one knee, looking down from a higher rock, which he held with both hands; his other leg stretched down to Ralph's level.

'It's so big, I mean—'

Simon nodded.


What's so big? I can't even tell who has spoken, and although this particular game of Twister is occurring as the lads circumnavigate a cliff face, the activity is implied rather than stated; so from time to time the novel does that thing of omitting some vital piece of information from a sentence, disorientating readers by obliging us to figure it out; so it's a little like reading A.E. van Vogt in places, except Alfred Elton did it on purpose for the sake of atmosphere.

So it's good, and the reputation is probably deserved, but I thought it would be better somehow.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion


Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá
The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion (2019)

Some time has passed since the first two instalments of the story, so I hope to God there'll be more to follow - as I seem to recall being the promise - and that this isn't the end of the saga, called back into publication by the popularity of its own television adaptation; and I hope to God specifically because it's wonderful, and also because it ends on a truly peculiar note which only raises further questions.

The first series of the television adaptation was sort of decent - albeit as a haphazard mash up of the first two books leaving the second series without much to do, hence the application of creative license, but the creative license of corporate telly imagineers which left the thing looking a bit of a dog's dinner and another one for the Tim Burton skip of mannered eccentricity. Picking up this volume and reminding oneself of what the source material does really brings home what a poor second the television adaptation was, even during its better moments. Its true - as has been said - that Gerard Way tends to expect his audience to pay attention, so we don't get anything spelled out and the reader is required to either remember who everyone is, or at least skip back to remind themselves every once in a while; but the effort we put in is rewarded. As with - off the top of my head - Pat Mills' Marshall Law, this isn't quite a superhero book in the traditional sense because the caped types are mostly extras, part of the landscape more than anything - something weird half-seen around a corner rather than pinned out in the glare of yet another headachey origin story; and it works because, aside from anything, the artwork is fucking gorgeous - sort of like Jack Kirby if he'd been born in France or summink.

Hotel Oblivion is grade one Surrealism in the truest sense - as distinct from what usually passes for the same these days - and feels very much like a graphic equivalent to Cocteau's Orphée and its type what with half of its narrative spent somewhere which feels very much like a modern take on some underworld from classical mythology; and it has themes, mostly pertaining to abandonment, shitty parenting and so on. There's a lot to get your teeth into if you're prepared to put in the work. I just hope this isn't the end of it.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Junk Mail


Will Self Junk Mail (2006)
I'm still not quite able to process some of the opprobrium levelled at this guy, much of which seemingly amounts to he ain't one of us, he's from a posh school and he uses all those big words to look clever but he ain't. The most coherent version of this argument, at least that I've found, seems to be something about how we've all been conned into buying the idea of Will Self as a dangerous anti-establishment figure when actually he writes for the Observer and once consumed heroin on the Prime Minister's jet; ergo what mugs we are! I suppose it's an argument of sorts, although it prompts the question of just who you do regard as a dangerous anti-establishment figure - Alan Moore? Stewart Home? Doctor Who? Some guy in a fucking band? Do you even know what the fuck you're talking about? One might just as well argue that we've all been conned into buying the idea of Will Self as Batman's nemesis and the scourge of Gotham City for all the sense it makes.

Failure to creep into the Houses of Parliament clutching a large sphere of black metal with a fuse and BOMB printed on the side notwithstanding, Self's writing, even with all of those long, difficult to understand words, is rarely less than astonishing, illuminating whatever subject he's chosen to pick apart with such high definition focus of intent and meaning as to make the journalistic norm appear somewhat impressionist; which is what makes him such a delight to read, almost regardless of subject. It's rare to come across arguments so well defined. Junk Mail assembles journalistic pieces from newspapers, magazines, exhibition catalogues, and even British Airways' slightly ludicrous High Life freebie, but the themes benefit from a similar focus to that which informs Self's fiction, or at least his satire given that it doesn't seem entirely fair to call it fiction considering the escapist connotations of the term. The only major difference is that the writing in Junk Mail is less one layer of allegory compared to My Idea of Fun, How the Dead Live and so on, and here we actually get to meet Traci Emin, Morrissey, Andrea Dworkin and others in person, and get to understand them a little better than we might have done otherwise. He even somehow manages to make Liam Gallagher and Damien Hirst seem marginally less twatty.

Anyway, while it's debatable whether or not Self cuts a dangerous anti-establishment figure - pretending for the sake of argument that it's even a meaningful term - he nevertheless succeeds in seeing through the bullshit of modern existence, and communicating what he's seen in a form which reaches a wide audience, even if it's maybe not quite so wide an audience as dangerous anti-establishment rebel leader Luke Skywalker in all those Star Wars samizdat movies. Even if you have to look up a few long-haired words here and there, Self's writing will always reward anyone making the effort, and for something vaguely amounting to cuttings swept up from the studio floor, this may even be one of his best. Additionally there's the bewildering accusation of arrogance, presumably once again founded on the use of words we might have to look up in a dictionary; and it's bewildering because Junk Mail is nothing if not self-effacing - literally, come to think of it - and the fact of the man's writing having personality is never allowed to obscure whatever he's writing about. Even where dark and harrowing, the clarity of this man's testimony is, as always, a joy to read.