Monday, June 13, 2016

Writing that changed my life

Again, in more-or-less chronological order....
* Ray Bradbury: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. First science-fiction I ever read, in spring of 1971. A collection of gorgeous, haunting short stories, the best of these will scar you for life. You'll never forget Bradbury's desolate, desert-like Mars with its delicate chessboard cities and the few surviving Martians hiding behind jeweled masks and sailing their fragile ships across sandy seas....
* THE ROLLING STONE RECORD REVIEW, VOLUME 2 -- Tripped over this in Boise, Idaho's Little Professor Book Center in summer of 1976, when they still had three copies left from when it was published as a thick $1.95 paperback in 1972. Wish I'd bought a second copy -- I've read through the first one so many times it fell apart long ago.
This was my introduction to Rock Criticism, and my first exposure to the demented ravings of Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, John Mendelssohn -- as well as more sober souls like Paul Nelson and Jon Landau. But what struck me hardest was the gorgeous, vivid, lyrical writing about music: Arthur Schmidt on The Beach Boys is worth the price of the book, as is Mendelssohn on The Move, Who and Kinks, Richard Cromelin on a ton of arty British faves (Yes, Bowie, Procol Harum, etc.), and Bangs on ELP. But the rest was a huge education for me.
* Hunter S. Thompson: THE GREAT SHARK HUNT, FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72 -- SHARK HUNT is a huge, sprawling best-of, disorganized but jammed full of shocking, hilarious writing about the turbulent '60s and '70s. CAMPAIGN TRAIL follows Nixon and McGovern around the country and watches in horror as McGovern slits his own throat. Repeatedly. Mostly screamingly funny, though one 3 a.m. scene in Cleveland as fake primary-election results come in will make your head spin. Too bad HST isn't around today -- though he couldn't have MADE UP the last few presidential elections....
* Harlan Ellison: THE GLASS TEAT, short stories -- Wonder if Hunter and Harlan ever met? They should have. As much outrage and humor as Hunter got out of the '60s, Harlan mainly got outrage. GLASS TEAT is a book of 45-year-old TV criticism that will burn your face off and fill you with anger even now. The sequel THE OTHER GLASS TEAT is mellower, not as angry and despairing, but still incisive. Harlan's best short stories are wondrous -- too many greats to list. And he's still writing, despite a downturn in energy, a heart attack, and an earthquake that destroyed his house and nearly crushed him.
* Robert Silverberg: DYING INSIDE, DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH, THE BOOK OF SKULLS, short stories -- Silverbob cranked out the great stuff in the '60s and '70s, book after classic book, doing shorts with his left hand while novelizing with his right. DYING is about a telepath who loses his powers -- amazingly vivid and human. EARTH is a "Heart Of Darkness" on an alien planet, beautiful and visionary. SKULLS is a complex cross-country road-trip with betrayals and murders. Bob has tons of amazing short stories, but my all-time fave is the tricky "Sundance."  
* George R.R. Martin: DYING OF THE LIGHT, short stories -- Long before GAME OF THRONES, George was king of mood and setting in '70s science-fiction. Some of his short stories will haunt you for life, and DYING OF THE LIGHT is one of my Top 5 favorite SF novels ever. His characters and the background/history of his future-universe are unforgettable.
* Frank Herbert: DUNE. Best science-fiction novel ever? A sweeping epic that makes you FEEL what it's like to live on a desert planet. Cool cloak-and-dagger stuff and complex politics, amazing that Herbert pulled it together in 400 pages. Avoid the hideous mid-'80s movie at all costs.
* Samuel R. Delany: THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, EMPIRE STAR, short stories. Delany is a black science-fiction writer from New York City, but his best stories are closer to songs -- short, vivid, lyrical and filled with unforgettable images. EINSTEIN is about how aliens take over Earth legends, and what they do with them. EMPIRE is a complex coming-of-age tale -- a huge story pulled off in 110 pages. His short stories continue the vivid delight in surprises.
* Roger Zelazny: CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS, short stories. Zelazny is my pick for the Poet of '60s science-fiction. Some of his stories are gloriously sweet and nostalgic. CREATURES is a flawed novel that looks at how the Egyptian gods might have run the universe, but it's so freakin' funny that it's impossible to put down.
* John McPhee: COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, RISING FROM THE PLAINS, BASIN AND RANGE, ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA, THE CURVE OF BINDING ENERGY, etc. -- McPhee has been writing great books since the early '60s. My favorites are on the geology and history of the American West. COUNTRY is about Alaska, and it's so vivid you hardly have to go there. ENERGY is about the creation and security of nuclear weapons, and it's terrifying -- especially the last 20 pages.
* Kathe Koja: SKIN -- The best horror novel ever, and my favorite novel ever. Koja takes the concepts of metal-sculpting, body-modification and performance-art and melds them to unforgettable characters, an awesome control of setting and mood, and her abrupt, jarring writing style -- and man, do the fireworks go off. Just about perfect, and stunning. When Koja's characters hurt, you will too.
* Gael Baudino: GOSSAMER AXE -- Second-greatest music novel ever. A harper from the land of Faerie forms a heavy-metal band to blast through the veil between the worlds and rescue her lost love. Funny, amazingly down-to-earth, vivid, a wonderful happy ending. And all the musical details are absolutely right.
* Lewis Shiner: GLIMPSES -- The greatest rock and roll novel ever. A stereo repairman discovers he can create great lost works of rock and roll just by thinking about them: Beach Boys' SMILE, Doors' CELEBRATION OF THE LIZARD, Jimi Hendrix's FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN. Meanwhile he has to cope with the collapse of his marriage, his father's death, and finding love in a whole new world. Amazingly warm, human, involving.


2000 Man said...

Wow - Glimpses! I haven't read that in a long time, but I found it for free somehow on the Internet. Really a neat book and a novel idea. I like how he mentioned the stench of pollution in the late 60's/early 70's when he met Jim Morrison. I wasn't there, but it immediately reminded me of how much things just stunk back then, and how much garbage was everywhere. That Indian didn't start crying for no reason, ya know.

TAD said...

Thanx, 2. Yeah, I re-read GLIMPSES every couple of years or so, and every time I seem to get more out of it. And I love the fact that Shiner got all the music details absolutely right. I dreaded reading the section about the Beach Boys and SMILE, because I thought of so many places a writer could have gone wrong ... but it felt like Shiner was IN THE ROOM with them or something. Really an amazing piece of work. It reads like Real Life, ya know?
Some of Shiner's other novels are pretty good too. SAY GOODBYE is a gritty musical slice-of-life that I should re-read. I had a good time, though there's no real ending, and it reads kind of like a documentary. But again great details, and a great feel for the bar-band/small-time indie-singer-songwriter scene. SLAM is a wild skateboarding/crime novel, and a lot more. His earlier DESERTED CITIES OF THE HEART has some interesting things in it, though it didn't seem quite REAL enough for me -- Mayans, time travel, etc. Vivid, but not quite vivid enough.
Some of Shiner's short stories are pretty great too -- especially "Jeff Beck," "Love in Vain," "Brujo".... Good luck finding them....
And many thanx for your continued support.