Books

1985 is a Thing

Way before I’d ever read 1984, I’d heard of it. I don’t know if I had heard of it during the year 1984, as I turned eight that autumn, but somewhere along the way I heard that particular year spoken of in that way that conveyed symbolic significance. When I did read it,that significance finally took shape.

In between the realization that 1984 was a book, and reading that book, I also somehow digested the notion that someone had written a response to it, and that someone was not George Orwell (if I knew who Orwell was at the time, which seems unlikely). I was aware, at some point, that there was also a book called 1985.

Today, in a lonely impulse of delight while pursuing Goodreads, I confirmed that reality.

Anthony Burgess. Of course.

As a sidebar, The International Anthony Burgess Foundation has a nice historical summary of the dystopian genre. I never would have realized that Brave New World was written before 1984.

The term ‘utopia’, literally meaning ‘no place’, was coined by Thomas More in his book of the same title. Utopia (1516) describes a fictional island in the Atlantic ocean and is a satire on the state of England. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill coined ‘Dystopia’, meaning ‘bad place’, in 1868 as he was denouncing the government’s Irish land policy. He was inspired by More’s writing on utopia.

Something fitting about “Utopia” being about England and “Dystopia” being about Ireland. Always thus, I suppose.

In any case, I look forward to reading it.

A Message I Think Many of Us Self-Published Could Use.

At the end of a re-posted Sarah Hoyt Human Wave “manifesto”

You shall not spend your life explaining why your not-boring is better than your fellow writers not-boring.  Instead you will shut up and write.

 preach

There is nothing lamer, sadder, and more pathetic that author-on-author hate. Does anyone imagine that J.K. Rowling gives one tu’penny fark how many people slag Harry Potter? Of course not, which is why I stopped hating on them years ago. I still haven’t read them, because I don’t care, but good for her. Seriously. Another person’s success is not my failure, no matter how mystifying I find things.

I have never published anything that sold in quantities I want. That’s, well, it’s not okay, but whining about it accomplishes what? Grumping about people who didn’t like my work accomplishes what?

Aside from making you an entitled ninny and pseudo-aristocrat, I mean?

The Yuletime Haul of Books: Trenches, Emperors, and the Knave Doth Abide

Like a Bandit, I made out. Like a bandit.

“Hand over the Literature and No one Gets Hurt”

The list:

  1. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – Still reading it, and while i detect clunky moments, when it’s on, it sizzles.
  2. Two Gentlemen of Lebowski – A friend of mine summed it up as “so much more spot-on than necessary.” I concur.
  3. World War One: A Short History – “In four years the world went from 1870 to 1940.” If anyone’s written a better sentence about this cataclysm, I have yet to read it.
  4. Poitiers 732: Charles Martel Turns the Islamic TideThe Dark Ages have always fascinated me. Still working on it, but the expansion of Odo of Aquitaine’s role in the conflict is refreshing.
  5. TiberiusAs part of the ongoing Caligula Project. It’s a quick read, and plausible. I always figured Tiberius got a bum rap, and it was nice to see a veering from Livia as the all-powerful Spider Queen.
  6. Camp of the SaintsControversial books that get translated into English? What’s not to love?
  7. And Another Thing… Well, I asked for it, didn’t I?

Geek Heresy Episode 2: Damn You, Douglas Adams.

I was done with you, you old dead grump.

Yes, I liked the Hitchhiker series in my early adolescence. Early adolescence is the right time for silly stories finding the funny side of planetary extinction and philosophical fail. A send-up of the whole sci-fi genre was long overdue, and Douglass supplied them in witty style. The first three books, anyway. The humor was dry and silly, with a cheerful “Where the hell are we going now?” spirit to the proceedings.

Then you took the thing back to Earth for So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. I never understood what was going on in that book, but I slogged through it, even though I hate sci-fi that has anything to do with earth. And I read Mostly Harmless, which should have been called Have I Not Yet Made it Perfectly Clear That Life is a Bleak Futility? Because it is. Everything is Boring and Everyone Dies. 

We got the Joke, Douglas. We got it at the end of Restaurant at the End of the Universe. No, before that. You know the scene where Ford Prefect, smashed on a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, tries to explain how the whole Restaurant works to Arthur, and babbles incoherently about bathtubs filled with sugar? That’s when I got it. Everything is beyond our understanding and communication itself is an impossibility. Ha.

unfuny

 

And you know what was really missing from these latter stories? Zaphod Beeblebrox. And not the brainless, smarmy, cowboy LOLWe’reMakingFunofGeorgeBushLOL movie version. I mean the snarky, ski-boxing, BattleBot-defying, so-hip-you-could-keep-a-side-of-meat-in-him-for-a-month hellofaguy from the books. The guy who promised to reprogram Eddie the Computer with a very large axe. Parody of space adventures require a parody of a hero, and by the Cat Who is Called The Lord, Zaphod Beeblebrox was that parody.

Arthur is a nonentity: your basic ReaderProxy who stands around with a confused look on his face. The comic effect of this diminishes somewhere around the third book, which is why the whole Agrajag scenario was necessary. Ford Prefect is a fine character, and I enjoy his increasing bitterness as the series progresses (the line about looking for gin is the only thing from So Long that my memory retains), but becoming more of a drunken sot isn’t the most creative arc devised for a character. Trillian is far and above the smartest humanoid character in the series, which she makes up for by having the personality of a crumpled sock. Having these three knuckleheads moaning about for two books just made you miss Zaphod and Eddie and Marvin (yes, he’s in So Long, for the express purpose of killing him off via a device that is about a tenth as funny as it thinks it is, so that he can be replaced by Random, who’s about as much fun as an actual sullen teenager. Pleh) the more.

So I was done. The books sit, dust-farming on my shelf, spared the the Goodwill drop off by laziness as much as nostalgia. Haven’t read them in years. Fine with that. And you can’t mind, because you’re dead, which kindly spares us any more Dirk Gently books. And I appreciate that.

But you just had to leave notes for a sixth Hitchhikers book behind, didn’t you? So your literary corpse could be robbed like Frank Herbert’s and Robert Jordan’s by whatever kind of author that enjoys wearing another man’s skin? Notes that involve the return of Zaphod and Eddie, and plucking Ford, Arthur, and Trillian from their probability-defined doom?

The fans hate it. Of course they do. The critics tutted it. As they must. I can’t imagine what we might see these fools do that would be worth the price of admission.

But am I going to read it? Yes. I must. Because the story was over, and now it isn’t, and amid the cold ashes of my geekery there’s a spark that cares just that much.

Damn You, Douglas Adams. Even in Death, your spirit pesters me.

thoughtiwasout

The good news: it was published in 2010, and I never noticed. I seem to recall someone telling me about it at a party, and me dismissing it with extreme prejudice. So now I can pick it up at the library.

Geek Heresy Episode 1

 

I Get Bad Reviews

I’m starting to think I should keep all my short-form content free on Amazon. Sarah Hoyt advises it, and now I’m starting to wonder if the price of zero would spare me reviews like this:

2.0 out of 5 stars No true fan of Aaron Burr would like this book., November 23, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: A Brief Conversation With Aaron Burr (Paperback)

This book is way too brief for its “conversational” purpose. It does no justice to Colonel Burr, except to make him out to be somewhat irascible, which (though justified) he certainly would not have been when talking with another, unless, of course, he knew that the author would be treating him in such a shallow way.

Fieri non potest, si iocum confutuere

simpsons_nelson_haha

 

Madness in Great Ones Must Not Unwatched Go.

“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming…”

I don’t know if it’s my subconscious ruminating on the debased state of American politics, or just the idle curiosity to re-watch a train wreck, but I found myself viewing, for the second time, the 1979 film Caligulia with Malcolm McDowell on Netflix. I only got an hour or so into it before I decided that it was just as bad as I remember it, and finally put my finger on the reason for its badness. It’s not the sets, or the script, or the acting. It’s not even the dull pornography. It’s that the film has no moral center. There is no one, not one person in this refuse worth caring about. Monsters and fools alone abound.

Well, it worked some kind of perverse inspiration in me, because I suddenly have the yen to write another book. I want to get elbow-deep into this boyish monster, and plumb the human depths of his tyranny. I’ve lined up the books I must read:

  • Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesers, because it’s been sitting in my bookshelf and I’ve never had the chance to really dig into it.
  • I, Claudius and Claudius the God. I’m familiar with the BBC series, of course, but I’ve got old copies of this, too. Been wanting to read them.
  • Camus’ Caligulia play. A friend of mine read this in college, and gave me the gist of the twist: Caligula, far from being insane, succumbs to the ennui of supreme power and seeks to “make the possible likely.” I like the premise of that, and it’s about time I read it.
  • The obligatory myth-debunking scholarly biography.
  • Possibly Allan Massie’s Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor.

I’m interested chiefly in the widely-reported notion that Caligulia believed himself a god. The Roman Empire was a time of great religious flux, as the old Republican pantheon gave way to thrilling cults from the East: Isis, Mithraism, Manichaeanism, Gnosticism, and Christianity. So I’d like to shift this most notorious emperor from Crazy to Self-Deifying.

This will naturally be a long project. Check this space for details.