Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Still more great non-fiction (Part 3)

* Tim Cahill: A WOLVERINE IS EATING MY LEG, JAGUARS RIPPED MY FLESH, PECKED TO DEATH BY DUCKS -- Cahill is the master of the hilarious travel-misadventure story. In these collections of essays, Cahill & friends walk across Death Valley, skydive out of perfectly good airplanes, nearly die while exploring caves in Georgia, climb up mountains with whiny sorority debutantes, & other misadventures that will have you laughing out loud. Tim occasionally pauses 4 serious subjects: WOLVERINE includes 1 of the 1st on-the-scene descriptions of the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana. & DUCKS features a 3-pg masterpiece, "Speak Oz," about how Australians communicate, that is the funniest 3 pgs you'll ever read.
* John McPhee: ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA, RISING FROM THE PLAINS, BASIN AND RANGE, COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, THE JOHN MCPHEE READER -- McPhee is the master of the semi-scholarly article with unexpected humor thrown in. The 1st 3 books R part of McPhee's long-running series on the history & geology of the American West. COUNTRY captures the poetry & wildness of Alaska. READER includes Xcellent selections from his 1st dozen books.
* Paul Theroux: THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA -- As with McPhee, when you read Theroux's descriptions of a place, it's almost like you never need 2 go there. This is his best book, the chronicle of his long walk around the island of Great Britain.
* Jon Krakauer: INTO THIN AIR, INTO THE WILD -- THIN AIR is the horrifying story of the deadly 1996 season on Mt. Everest, during which a dozen mountain-climbers died. Vivid, brutal & scary, Krakauer makes mountain climbing seem like such unending drudgery you wonder why any1 would ever want to do it. Sean Penn's movie version of INTO THE WILD is better than the book -- there's more depth 2 the story -- but the book is an involving, moving piece of work, even tho 1 of the best parts of it (Krakauer's youthful adventure on Alaska's Stikine Ice Cap) was told previously in his collection EIGER DREAMS.
* George R. Stewart: ORDEAL BY HUNGER -- Stewart's classic, riveting story of the Donner Party, as intricately detailed, involving & brutal as you'd ever imagined.
* Richard Preston: THE HOT ZONE, THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER -- HOT ZONE, about the discovery of the Ebola virus, is 1 of the scariest books ever written -- & when I 1st read it I swallowed it up in 1 sitting, unable 2 get away. DEMON, about the eradication of smallpox, is nearly as scary.
* Ted Simon: GRAND PRIX YEAR -- Been a car-racing fan since I was 11 years old & saw the Monaco Grand Prix on TV. This book takes me back 2 that year, 1970, a year in Formula 1 racing racked by 3 driver deaths, the crowning of the 1st posthumous world driving champion, & creation of a brand new race car. Like being in the pits all season long & not missing a thing.
* Michael Herr: DISPATCHES -- The best book on the Vietnam War I've ever read, written by a correspondent who was there at the time. As detailed, involving & hallucinatory as any movie about Vietnam that you'll ever see.

...Still trying 2 decide if recent releases like Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES and Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY should be included in the "Music" section of this list. I guess if I'm still browsing thru them 4 fun a year from now, that will mean they should be....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

More great non-fiction (Part 2)

* BENCHMARKS, Algis Budrys -- Great late '60s reviews of science fiction masterworks like DUNE, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, LORD OF LIGHT, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, RINGWORLD & lots more, by an SF star of the '50s. Budrys adds plenty of advice 4 writers + some nostalgia pieces on what it was like 2 write back in the days of the SF pulps. The best collection of book reviews ever. (& when is someone gonna collect his '70s & '80s reviews from F&SF?)
* DREAM MAKERS I & II, Charles Platt -- Superb late-'70s/early-'80s interviews with 50+ SF writers in which: Philip K. Dick talks about Talking With God; Joanna Russ admits she's a lesbian; Keith Laumer gets furious with everybody; Piers Anthony acts grumpy; Samuel R. Delany doesn't reveal that he's gay; Robert Silverberg reflects on his '70s masterpieces; James Tiptree Jr. masquerades as Alice Sheldon; Barry Malzberg reveals why every day's a crisis at his house; & so much more. These interviews have never been topped within the SF field.
* TRILLION YEAR SPREE, Brian W. Aldiss -- The best history of SF yet written. Detailed, wide-ranging, funny.
* THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT, Barry N. Malzberg -- An anguished, despairing critical history of SF. Malzberg is at his best in the essay form, & at his absolute peak when writing about forgotten writers like Cornell Woolrich & Mark Clifton. With a coupla added long essays (1 of which is the Xcellent "Tripping with the Alchemist"), this book is also available under the title BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS. Malzberg threatens sevral times here to write THE TERRIBLE TRUE SECRET HISTORY OF SF, & I hope he does it before he passes away....
* THE SALON.COM READERS' GUIDE TO CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS -- What do you wanna know about Cormac McCarthy, William T. Vollman, Don DeLillo, Alice Walker, Doris Lessing & 100's of others? R they any good? This book will tell you.
* ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE: THE UNCENSORED HISTORY, Robert Draper -- In this involving history of Rock's favorite rag, Draper makes the case that anything good published in the mag happened despite the work of publisher/editor Jann Wenner. & Wenner will still talk to him at the end of the book. Brilliant atmosphere, hilarious stories, & great snapshots of Hunter S. Thompson, Dave Marsh, Tim Cahill, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Ed Ward, & lots more.
* THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION, edited by John Clute & Peter Nichols -- Massive, detailed, accurate. Almost anything you'd ever want to know about the field. They get pretty obscure, too....
* THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SF, David Pringle -- Hundreds of capsule book reviews of SF novels & short story collections. Pringle's pretty level-headed, even funny, & not afraid 2 point-out the Real Crap....
* IN SEARCH OF WONDER, Damon Knight -- Dated but still pretty great. '50s & '60s SF reviews by the pioneer of book-reviewing in the field. Lotsa SF stars R critiqued, including Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Pohl, Kornbluth & many more. & when Knight chops up the hacks it's pretty hilarious.

* THE GLASS TEAT & THE OTHER GLASS TEAT, Harlan Ellison -- Brilliant, ferocious, angry TV criticism from the late '60s with Harlan championing the counterculture & lashing out viciously at televised mediocrity wherever he sees it. The 1st volume is so angry it gets kinda depressing, but there was a lot 2 B angry about back then. The 2nd book is a little bit mellower. But not much.

* WALK AWAY RENE, Hipgnosis -- This collection of '70s album-cover artwork is gorgeous 2 look at, of course, but the best thing about the book is Storm Thorgerson's hilarious stories about working with Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10 CC, Keith Emerson, etc.
* VIEWS, Roger Dean -- Absolutely gorgeous SF artwork illustrating albums by Yes among many others. Dominy Hamilton's text coulda been a little bit lighter, but it's great on the technical aspects.

* THE GREAT SHARK HUNT, Hunter S. Thompson -- The "best-of" by the '60s/'70s outlaw reporter & creator of "Gonzo Journalism." Badly edited & arranged in no real order, but all Thompson's best work is here, from the opening of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, 2 Xcerpts of his political coverage 2 his trip 2 the Kentucky Derby, encounters with the Hell's Angels & MUCH more. Nearly all brilliant & hilarious.
* FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72, Hunter S. Thompson -- Minute-by-minute coverage of the '72 Nixon/McGovern presidential race, from the quiet beginnings in New Hampshire thru the conventions & in the bunker in Rapid City, S.D. on Election Night. Brilliant, hilarious, outrageous, 1-of-a-kind, & never ever boring. You may not believe that Thompson took acid with NBC News anchor John Chancellor, but you probly will believe an ugly scene in Cleveland at the end of the Ohio primary in which vote totals R so out-of-whack that McGovern's people start waking up Supreme Court Justices in the middle of the nite....
* THE CURVE OF BINDING ENERGY, John McPhee -- Everything you'd ever wanna know about safeguarding nuclear weapons -- & about how nukes became so ever-present during the Cold War. The scary last section of the book muses on how big a nuke a terrorist would need 2 knock down the World Trade Center....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Great non-fiction (Part 1)

As I get older & my attn span gets shorter, I find myself reading more & more non-fiction. I find I want 2 know more about How Things Happened & What It Was Like & How Things Got This Way.
This is a fairly big change 4 me, cos when I was growing up I was strictly a Fiction Guy -- lots of novels & short-stories, science fiction mainly, but really whatever looked good. These days I'm lucky if I can get thru a novel at all.
Most fiction writers these days seem 2 need a good editor & waste 2 much time. With only a few Xceptions, I find I can't focus on the story they're trying 2 tell 4 300 or 400 pgs -- or, Ghod help me, even more. The Xceptions: Kathe Koja, Jack Ketchum, James Ellroy, Thomas Harris, maybe a few others.
The last novel I got thru was Andrew Foster Altschul's fairly-brilliant DEUS EX MACHINA -- but after that I hadta give up on his previous novel, LADY LAZARUS, 1/2way thru. I just couldn't focus on his story 4 600 pgs. There wasn't enuf in there 4 me. It took 2 long 2 get 2 some kinda pay-off.
This had maybe bn coming 4 awhile. My 20 yrs as a newspaper reporter likely helped me reach this just-the-facts-please outlook. But when I was younger most non-fiction bored the crap outta me. Then I discovered a copy of THE ROLLING STONE RECORD REVIEW VOLUME II, learned that there was such a thing as record reviews, & saw that they could even B creative, & that was it 4 me. After that I started reading book reviews & learned they were pretty cool 2. Since then I've bn a sucker 4 almost NE reviews, or NE book that can tell me How Things Got This Way & do it with some style.
The reviewers in that ROLLING STONE book weren't just telling you what they thot of an album, they used their imaginations 2 describe what it felt like 2 HEAR summa that stuff, the impact it had on them -- guys like Stephen Holden on the Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS & Arthur Schmidt on SURF'S UP, or John Mendelssohn on The Kinks & The Move, Richard Cromelin on Yes & ELP & Bowie, & Lester Bangs on just about everybody -- they were creative, direct, hilarious, outrageous, moving. It was a kind of writing I hadn't encountered B4.
I've bn looking 4 more like it ever since, & not just in the area of music reviews -- factual writing with some style & flair & imagination that also gets the facts across. This is why I'm a sucker 4 the writing of guys like John McPhee & Tim Cahill & etc.
So I thot I'd give ya a list of some great non-fiction you otta check-out, starting with books on music -- reviews & encyclos & band bios & so on on -- some stuff I've raved about B4, others I've never gotten around 2. I'll get 2 other, weirder stuff as we continue. Roll 'em....

* THE ROLLING STONE RECORD REVIEW, VOLUME II -- Of course this is the 1 that started me off. Good luck finding a copy, but if you do, in addition 2 the above you'll find great writing on Motown's 1st 10 years of hits & lotsa Soul & R&B classics, all by Vince Aletti; lotsa reviews by John Landau before he became Bruce Springsteen's producer; a few nuggets from Lenny Kaye & Nick Tosches & Richard Meltzer; Janet Maslin, Chet Flippo, Ed Ward, & more folks whose work will suprise you. My copy fell in2 a dozen pieces years ago....
* ENGLAND'S DREAMING, Jon Savage -- The rise of the Sex Pistols & Punk Rock. Massive, vivid, detailed, scary-good, written by a guy who was there thruout the whole thing.
* CHRISTGAU'S RECORD GUIDES TO THE '70s & '80s, Robert Christgau -- Great books 2 throw across the room. Christgau hates a lotta the stuff I love, but his sense of humor grows on you. If you can learn 2 enjoy reading reviews that might piss you off, you'll probly hava good time. & I'm sure he's right about The Ramones, Lou Reed, the Velvets, & probly lotsa other people I'll likely never hear much of....
* THE BEACH BOYS AND THE CALIFORNIA MYTH, David Leaf -- Probly the most detailed look at the BB's & What They Meant ever written, with lotsa great detail on PET SOUNDS & SMILE. Lotsa stuff you'll never find anywhere else.
* THE BEACH BOYS, Byron Priess -- A very close 2nd. Great art & graphics, solid research, lotsa lyrics, & some stuff Leaf's book didn't have....
* REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD, Ian MacDonald -- A track-by-track look at The Beatles' entire recorded output, how they made the songs, how long it took, the challenges, the arguments, the results -- & an attempt at putting some perspective on What It All Means. 4 me, the best Beatles book ever.
* THE LONGEST COCKTAIL PARTY, Richard DiLello -- The real inside story of the Beatles' Apple Records, written by the label's "house hippie." Hilarious, daring, names all the names & clearly depicts the chaos & fun of working at Apple.
* BEFORE I GET OLD, Dave Marsh -- The best bio on The Who that I ever Xpect 2 read. Lotsa details on WHO'S NEXT, QUADROPHENIA, SELL OUT & TOMMY, tho not enuf on events after Keith Moon's death. FACE DANCES is unfairly skimped on details -- but that's how the band feels 2, apparently. Marsh is a fanatic, & that helps.
* THE HEART OF ROCK AND SOUL, Dave Marsh -- Dave picks the 1,000 greatest Rock/R&B/Soul/Country 45's of all time & writes about them. Tho there's bunches you know all about, there R TONS that I guarantee you've NEVER heard of. Much of the writing is brilliant, mysterious, hilarious, moving. MUCH more than "just the facts"....
* LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE!, Dominic Priore -- Sorta a scrapbook about the Beach Boys' SMILE album. Priore coulda used an editor, but there's some amazing, irreplaceable stuff here, including the best-ever SMILE article, Jules Siegel's "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!"
* IN THE COURT OF KING CRIMSON, Sid Smith -- The best KC bio I ever expect 2 read until Bob Fripp writes his version....
* THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Bill Bruford -- Detailed & deeply thotful autobio by the well-traveled drummer. Wanna know what it was like 2 play with Yes, King Crimson, U.K., Genesis, Gong, etc? Bruford tells you. What's Bob Fripp REALLY like? There's a whole CHAPTER on that....
* SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS, Nicholas Schaffner -- This bio of Pink Floyd is the best band bio I've ever read.
* PSYCHOTIC REACTIONS AND CARBURETOR DUNG, Lester Bangs -- Hilarious reviews & interviews from the '70s wildman. Most of these R classics. His later collection, MAINLINES, BLOOD FEASTS & BAD TASTE is only slightly less marvelous, but is worth it all 4 2 amazing long pieces on later electric-jazz-rock Miles Davis, summa the best writing Lester ever did....
* THE ROLLING STONE RECORD GUIDE -- The original "red book," THE best book ever 4 throwing across the room, until I discovered Bob Christgau. Summa the reviews R outrageous, but there's lotsa good info & Xcellent writing from Greil Marcus, Charlie Walters & others....
* THE ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO ROCK -- My Ghod. Not all of it's factually correct, not all of it's even in English, but there's Xcellent writing from Dave Thompson, Ned Raggett & others, & I learned a lot in the sections on T. Rex, Mott the Hoople & others. But it'll take you a lifetime 2 read it....
* THE PENGUIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Donald Clarke -- Great, hilarious, moving stories, especially about legendary jazz figures like Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong & so many more -- & about the history of popular music itself. Wish more of the rock&roll entries had that kinda depth.... Still, detailed & wide-ranging, tho slanted slightly toward the U.K., where it was written & published.
More soon.... Also coming soon: MORE MUSIC....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Music for the end of the world

A playlist. Why didn't I think of this before? I shoulda posted this a coupla days ago, I just didn't think of it.
Anyway, nice 2 C you all survived the Apocalypse, & maybe summa the tunes below might make a decent soundtrack to any future Apocalypses.... See how many of these you've heard:

King Crimson: Starless, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Red, Fracture, Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II, etc. (KC should be The Official Band Of The Apocalypse.)
The Doors: The End.
Nick Drake: Pink Moon.
Moody Blues: You and Me.
Glass Moon: Sundays and Mondays.
Wigwam: Bless Your Lucky Stars.
Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays: As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls.
Grace Slick: Garden of Man.
Electric Light Orchestra: From the End of the World.
Group 87: One Night Away from Day.
Styx: Don't Let it End.
Beatles: A Day in the Life.
Nektar: It's All Over.
Rare Bird: Epic Forest.
Steve Tibbetts: Ur.
Justin Hayward & John Lodge: When You Wake Up.
Kate Bush: Breathing.
Gentle Giant: His Last Voyage.
Rush: Time Stand Still.
Yes: Close to the Edge.
David Sancious and Tone: Transformation (The Speed of Love).

...I'm sure there R 1,000's of other possibilities; this is just what I could come up with off the top of my head & with a quick peek at The Collection.
& what were YOU listening 2 as Zero Hour approached on Saturday?

(UPDATED at 1:45 am Monday 23 May 11 before looking at comments:)
...I thot of a few others overnite & while working:
1994: Our Time Will Come.
Rush: Manhattan Project.
Pink Floyd: Two Suns in the Sunset.
Queen: The Prophet's Song.
Pete Townshend: North Country Girl.
Al Stewart: Nostradamus.
Randy Newman: Political Science.
Genesis: Supper's Ready.
...I trust Rastro or Crabby or Drew will catch me on summa these....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Blogging 101

All of the following is gonna seem pretty pointless if the world really does end on Saturday evening, but what the hey....

OK, so I have this old friend from highschool -- my highschool sweetheart, in fact -- who was gonna start blogging a year ago. She said she had a great idea 4 a blog that'd revolve around all the weird stuff she's somehow ended up with in her house, & how she ended up with all that weird stuff. She even had a format all set 4 each post. Each post would start out "So I've got this ashtray...." or "So I've got this butter churn...." & then go on from there, describing the items & how she ended up stuck with them. She assured me that some of the stories about how she obtained these items were really hilarious.
She even had a name picked out 4 the blog. She was gonna call it "The Paranormal Garage Sale." & I guess she was even gonna SELL the items if some1 wanted them badly enuf.
I was really looking forward 2 it, so I could rave about it here.
Well, I've been looking ever since, every coupla mo's, & I can't find her blog. Which makes me wonder if she ever started it. Maybe she got involved in something else, like getting her master's degree from Harvard. Or maybe she just thot it was 2 silly an idea. Or maybe she just lacked confidence -- which would be a 1st. She doesn't lack confidence in any other area, & she definitely knows how 2 write.
I started thinking maybe she got scared that people would laff at her & her blog. Which is of course the 1st thing ya gotta get over if yer gonna write 4 the public. OF COURSE they're gonna laff at you -- sooner or later. & probably not when you WANT them 2, either. Most likely it'll B at the worst possible time, like when you're writing about something deep & meaningful & personal. That's how this stuff works.
So then I started thinking: Wouldn't it B great if somebody came up with a list of Do's & Don'ts 4 beginning bloggers? A quick no-holds-barred crash course in what 2 do & not 2 do? There probly is 1 somewhere, but I've never seen 1, so....

(4 quick rules 2 make you the hottest, most popular blogger on the Internet)
* REVEAL ALL -- Your readers R endlessly curious -- nosy, even. They R going 2 want 2 know ALL about you. So hold NOTHING back. Include in your early blog posts your age, gender, marital status, where you live, number of children, sexual preferences, number of partners you've had, EVERYTHING. & B sure 2 include bank account #'s, credit & debit card #'s, EVERYTHING. TOTAL DISCLOSURE should B your motto at all times. Secrecy is 4 secret agents.
* KEEP IT UPBEAT -- People have enuf sadness & stress in their lives already. Why do you think they're surfing the Internet & possibly reading YOUR crap? So keep it light. Comedy is Good. Make fun of current events, the latest Britney Spears hit, or former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's marital problems ("Did you see the tits on that bitch? I woulda done her too!"). Latching onto current events also guarantees you'll get more "hits" from web-surfers searching 4 hot cutting-edge content. (That's what visits 2 your blog are called, "hits.") Always remember: Nobody wants to read about your depressing, pathetic little life. They're too busy trying to get away from THEIRS. So keep it light. Or else.
* BE OUTRAGEOUS -- Wanna attract more attention & more readers? Well, nude photos R your best bet. (Especially if you're a woman.) But if you'd really rather just write, make sure your blog goes where no other websites dare. You think President Obama secretly hates white people? Great! Post it!! & B sure 2 put that in the headline -- the better 4 search engines 2 find yer blog & send more readers your way! Osama bin Laden was your Dad? Great! Post it!! Do a short recap about what life was like with "Poppa O" & wait 4 the book deals 2 start rolling in!
* HONESTY? WHO CARES?! -- Really, no one wants 2 read about your pathetic & sad little life. Everybody knows what those R like -- all your readers R busy living it. So get creative. Be brave, be daring, be unusual & diffrent, & BE FUNNY. People love 2 laff, & every1's always looking 4 more stuff 2 laff about. So crank-out the jokes. Find the funny things that happen in your everyday life & those of your friends, & write about them. Or just make it all up. The stuff'll flow out naturally B4 you can stop yourself, & after it does you can sit back & wait 4 the book & movie offers 2 come 2 your door. & they WILL. That's the little secret that bloggers don't tell anybody -- everybody who blogs ends up rich & famous!
This could happen 2 YOU! Don't wait til the Internet is a dated fad of the past like Pong & Hula Hoops, start blogging now! And Good Luck to all you beginning bloggers....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

End of world set for Saturday

OK, so I was gonna do this whiny post about how most current music sucks & there's hardly anything good to watch on TV & that maybe the reason why mosta the new movies that come out are either remakes or mindless comedies or wild fantasies or chop-'em-up horror is because Real Life isn't too much fun these days & maybe most of us don't really wanna deal with it anymore....
But to Hell with all that, because The End Of The World is set for this coming Saturday, 21 May 2011, & I think if it really happens it's gonna put all our other little worries way down all of our lists.
So I wouldn't worry too much about the mortgage you can't pay or the bills you can't keep ahead of or the car that needs major repairs you can't afford, or about your failing marriage or your messed-up relationship....
Because The End is at hand. And if I were you, I'd be getting your affairs in order.
This is based on a full-page advertisement that appeared in last weekend's USA TODAY, near the back of the news section. A huge, colorful ad that it was impossible to miss. The headline said something like "JUDGEMENT DAY WILL OCCUR ON SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2011," & the ad went on to explain that the end of the world will start with massive worldwide earthquakes. One can only assume that after those have subsided, Ghod Himself will then come down & pass judgement on your lazy, worthless, sinning ass. & the rest of you, too.
I'd suggest that if you wanna get in good with Ghod, you had better get cracking.
The rest of this ad -- what I can remember of it -- said that all those folks who'd previously warned us that the end of the world was coming at the end of 2012 -- you know, like Nostradamus & the Mayans & Biblical scholars down thru the ages -- they all got their calculations wrong. The Real End is coming more than 18 months ahead of schedule, & woe unto your sorry behind if you haven't been getting your stuff together.
What was the purpose of this ad, you may well ask, other than to cause massive panic among the sinners amongst us? I THINK they were trying to sell you a book that explains how the calculations about the End Times got messed up, & what you need to know B4 those End Times come to pass....
But that can't be it, because if the end is coming on Saturday, the publishers'll barely have time to debit the $39.95 from your bank account, let alone ship you the book, before the ground starts shakin....
...But they were also trying to offer a sorta Public Service Announcement: The ad urged readers to buy multiple copies of the paper & send the ad to elected officials, police chiefs, fire chiefs, emergency-response teams -- so that the public might be alerted & not be caught unaware.
Not that there's anything anyone's gonna be able to do.... Not if the earthquakes are worldwide....
Which leads us therefore unto the Day Of Judgement. & woe unto us.
Don't know about you, but I know where I'll be going. I've tried to be a good person, & I think I AM a good person. But I've lied & broken hearts & betrayed friendships & treated people badly & committed adultery -- & if I could do it all over again tomorrow I'd do it faster & more often, so obviously I didn't learn a goddamned thing. (Sorry, Lord.)
So I know I'm going to burn in Hell.
But I also know that I'll have LOTS of company.
And where will YOU be spending eternity?
Even more important -- who do you suppose paid 4 this full-page ad in USA TODAY, a newspaper with between 1 & 3 million daily readers nationwide, last I heard. I'd assume that a full-page color ad in such a publication likely costs between $5,000 & $10,000 -- pretty serious money to put down on the table if you're not Absolutely Certain that The End Is Near. & USA TODAY took the money....
So if I were you I'd get my things together. There's a bad moon on the rise, as John Fogerty once said. & woe be unto you if you are not ready when the hour is nigh.
I am NOT making this up....

...Of course I don't really BELIEVE the world as we know it is going to end on Saturday. But won't the folks who placed that ad be -- briefly -- awfully smug & self-righteous if it DOES?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Female Man, and others

Hey, Joanna Russ died at the end of April. She was 74 years old. This may not mean much 2 you if you're not a science fiction fan, but back when I was reading SF heavily, Russ was 1 of those cutting-edge "New Wave"-style writers who shook up the SF field in the late '60s & early '70s.
She attracted a lotta attention, caused a ton of controversy, & won a few awards -- her heavily feminist short story "When it Changed" won SF's Nebula Award in '73, & her novella "Souls" won the Hugo Award in '83.
The rest of the time she pissed-off a lotta people -- mostly men who thot A Woman's Place Was In The Home. There were still a lotta those guys in SF in the late '60s.
I 1st stumbled over Russ's work in the pages of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, where she wrote a series of angry, sarcastic book reviews between 1969 & the early '80s. At 1st I didn't like her very much -- I couldn't figure out what she seemed so angry about, or why she was poking fun at the reading I loved.
Later it seemed more & more that she just talked hard, good sense. She had absolutely no patience 4 sloppy, lazy writing, 4 stereotypes repeated endlessly as "formula" & without thot -- she clearly felt that if writers were given a gift they should USE IT.
She did. She wrote 1/2adozen novels -- the 1st 2, PICNIC ON PARADISE and AND CHAOS DIED, were both nominated for Nebula Awards. F&SF book reviewer Judith Merrill said she didn't believe a word of PICNIC, but could clearly see that Russ totally believed & was carried away by her own story.... Intresting that Russ should end up replacing Merrill as F&SF's book critic.
The novel that REALLY got Russ SF's attention was THE FEMALE MAN (1975), which caused all kinds of controversy. Critics called Russ's fable about feminism & female-empowerment self-involved & pretentious & all kinds of other nasty things. It took me years 2 read it -- not until long after I'd read 2 of her other novels & all her book reviews that I could track down.
THE FEMALE MAN isn't really a novel -- it's more a collection of character sketches & visions & flights of fantasy, sorta a sequel 2 "When it Changed." It doesn't really cohere as a novel -- there isn't really a thru-story as such. But there R some pretty neat things in it, including a kinda unsettling feminist sex-fantasy, & sevral diffrent views of Russ's feminist-utopia planet Whileaway.
Another book that pissed off SF fans was WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO.... (1977), an interplanetary-shipwreck tale with an ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT 1st 1/2, which unfortunately goes right down the tubes as the narrator sits down & mumbles in2 a tape recorder 4 the next 100 pgs, trying 2 dig up the nerve 2 commit suicide. SF fans who insisted that humans stranded on an alien planet MUST survive, MUST carry on the human race, were outraged by this book -- which basically said nobody stranded on an alien planet HAS 2 do ANYTHING except die....
THE TWO OF THEM (1978) was mellower. In it, Russ turned some of her earlier stories on their heads as she described a "Time Patrol" officer who helps a young woman escape a repressive Middle-Eastern-style planet. The book might benefit from a reprinting these days. The descriptions R vivid, Russ didn't beat her audience over the head with A Message (tho it's clearly there), there R Major Surprises along the way, & the sense of freedom achieved at the ending -- especially in the last few pgs -- is pretty breathtaking.
& the book apparently sank without a trace....
Russ was also a clever & tricky short story writer, & hadda wicked sense of humor. I was never able 2 get in2 her "Alyx" series of heroic-fantasy stories that supposedly turned the stereotypes of sword&sorcery upside down -- at 1st by making the hero a woman. But I read the last of that series, the novella "The Second Inquisition," supposedly set in something like Russ's childhood -- but everything seemed so low-key & underplayed that by the time Big Revelations happened near the end it all went right past me. Maybe I was just too dumb to Get It.
Some of her other short pieces won some fans, tho. "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" is a hilarious language guide 4 folks planning on visiting an alien planet. "Invasion" would make a cute cartoon -- since the invading aliens look like little purple pyramids. & see if you can track down the very brief "Dragons and Dimwits," which will tell you everything you need to know about Russ's views on heroic fantasy.
In fact, it was a column on heroic fantasy that got Russ the biggest response when she reviewed 4 F&SF. Among the books she critiqued was Stephen Donaldson's CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, 1 of my all-time favorites -- in which she correctly pointed out Donaldson's morbid character names 4 his villains, & the insensitive use of pain & disease as on ongoing motif, & the fact that in heroic fantasy Good Deeds are almost always done by the young, healthy, beautiful.... a way 4 the reader 2 wish that he or she were young, healthy, beautiful, powerful.... All of these she felt were ways of avoiding brutal Reality. "We'd better learn to deal with the Real World," she wrote slightly later in defense of reviewing & criticism, "it's what there is."
A couple years later Russ stopped reviewing. A few years after that she mostly stopped writing. She was reportedly in chronic back pain from the early '80s onward; in an interview 4 Charles Platt's DREAM MAKERS II she said she'd spent most of the previous year in bed. In the same interview she admitted she was a lesbian. This didn't seem that big a surprise after all the other controversy she'd been at the center of.
Russ had a long teaching career at Cornell & at the University of Washington. As a critic she could be very generous when she read something she felt was new & diffrent, or when she found a writer who she felt was speaking in a unique voice -- she boosted David R. Bunch's MODERAN stories, & was a big champion of Barry N. Malzberg's early work, up thru BEYOND APOLLO and THE FALLING ASTRONAUTS. Tho she 1nce called Robert Silverberg "a sossidge-factory" 4 the work he useta crank-out early in his career, she later gave a glowing review to his DYING INSIDE, 1 of the best & most realistic SF novels of the '70s.
Russ had been in poor health 4 awhile. She apparently had a stroke back in Feb & had been living in a hospice since then. When "Invasion" was published in the late '90s it was the 1st story by her that I'd seen in quite awhile.
Why all these words 4 a writer I wasn't that big a fan of? Well, I WAS a fan -- especially of her book-criticism. I still re-read her old reviews every now & then. I still enjoy it when she tears those lazy, shoddy, formulaic books up, & some of her reviews make me laff out loud. The old magazine issues those reviews R in R only a couple steps away from me as I type this.
A lot of the writers who pulled me in2 science fiction 40 years ago R getting up there. Robert Silverberg's in his 70s, so's Harlan Ellison. Frederik Pohl's about 2 turn 91! Samuel R. Delany's getting up there. Roger Zelazny died over a decade ago & he was only in his mid-50s. John Brunner died in the late '90s. Frank Herbert & James Tiptree Jr. R long gone. So are Algis Budrys & Thomas M. Disch. Thank Ghod there R still lotsa younger writers cranking out Good Stuff.
It's just a little shocking that some1 else who had a big impact on the reading in my past is gone. Makes it harder 2 visit SF websites like Locus & Ansible, wondering when the announcement's gonna come about Who's Gone Now....

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Prophets, seers and sages....

I'm back, sorta. & I was wrong -- Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO UNDERGROUND AND PROGRESSIVE ROCK was released the 1st week of May. So I've had a little over a week 2 look at it. Some 1st impressions:
Well, there's a LOT of solid information here, from release dates 2 original catalog #'s 2 chart action (if any, mostly 4 the U.K.) 2 audience response, band histories, why the bands broke up, where the members went after that, & a whole lot more.
It's not all prog, or even what I'd call "underground" -- Cream & Traffic don't strike me as fitting either category. & tho there's a lotta forgotten or overlooked artists included here, they're certainly not ALL overlooked -- not when you've got Yes, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues & Pink Floyd in the book.
Powell looks at 100 prog/undy(?) albums in chronological order, starting with the Moodies' DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED in late '67 & working up 2 Vangelis's HEAVEN AND HELL at the end of 1975. This hundred includes "20 lesser-known greats" & an additional 10 "that need no introduction." & there's some great stuff here, among the titles I recognized.
There's also a lotta people I've never heard of -- High Tide, Skin Alley, Locomotive, T2, Web, East of Eden, Agitation Free, Jody Grind, Quintessence.... Powell has done his homework.
There's a good number of artists you've likely heard OF but don't know much about -- Khan, Egg, the Groundhogs, Family, Pretty Things, Man, Aphrodite's Child, Colosseum, Edgar Broughton Band, Atomic Rooster, Arthur Brown's various insanities, Pink Fairies, Audience, Roy Harper, String Driven Thing, etc.
There's also a ton of names I'm sure you'll recognize. You may not be in any hurry 2 read ANOTHER write-up on IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING or CLOSE TO THE EDGE, but there R enuf other acts & albums discussed here that I'll bet you'll agree the book is worth the $$$.
Powell wisely does not try 2 describe the music 2 much. His basic approach is: "This is pretty great stuff; you should try to hear it."
Some minor criticisms:
* I'd be willing 2 bet about 25 of these 100 albums are items you've heard & read-about 2 DEATH: CLOSE TO THE EDGE, THE YES ALBUM, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, BRAIN SALAD SURGERY, MEDDLE, TAGO MAGO, TUBULAR BELLS (8 pgs about this is at least 4 too many), PAWN HEARTS, THE SNOW GOOSE, etc. So go 2 the new-2-you stuff 1st....
* Some sections (on Caravan, Camel, Hatfield and the North) seem 2 duplicate pretty closely the liner-notes Powell has written 4 recent archive re-releases he's overseen. Not that summa the stories aren't worth reading again, like Hatfields drummer Pip Pyle's comments about Virgin Records producer Tom "Bulk Erase" Newman....
* You may be shocked to discover that there are no American bands profiled in this book.
* I know I say this a lot, but this book coulda been proofread at least 1 more time. There are a lot of little errors that make mush of Powell's work.
...There's also a catalog listing of prog/undy CD's available from Powell's Esoteric Records included in the back of the book. Many of the items listed there R also discussed within the text. This is not a criticism at all -- NEthing that gets this stuff heard by more people is OK by me....
I'm not claiming 2 have read the whole book already. Could take awhile. But already I'm hoping this sells enuf 4 Powell 2 write a sequel. There's more good stuff out there, & I think there's enuf good prog up thru the mid-'80s that's worth investigating. (& I'm available 4 proofreading duties....)
So get the book. It's not as flashy as Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY, but the sheer mass of factual data & stories should keep you busy 4 awhile.
More soon....

My thanx 2 those who continue 2 read here, even when I'm not active. I appreciate your support. Tho I still haven't got this Internet-connection thing settled, hopefully as the weather improves I'll be able 2 post here more often. This is the 1 part of my life that makes sense & doesn't stress me out, so ... thanx 4 listening....

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm still here....

...but I've bn cut off!
Whoever's Internet signals the World's Smallest Laptop has been sucking up over the last few months has cut me off or blocked me out or moved ... or something.
So I'm typing this in my car, in the parking lot of the Port Orchard Safeway, the nearest wi-fi hotspot 2 my house. Pretty pathetic. Great signal, but I can't see a thing Bcos of the glare offa my shirt from the sunshine. Complain, complain....
Wish I could say I've bn doing something Important. Had a VERY stressful past month at work, only partly caused by hassles over the outrageous price of gasoline (currently $4.05 for a gallon of Regular). This on top of losing my Internet access.... Well, mosta the time lately I've bn 2 tired & stressed-out 2 care much about posting NEthing....
Wish I could say I've bn listening 2 tons of new music, but lately it's mostly bn Olde Favorites in an attempt 2 boost my mood. Have a stack of new-2-me stuff piled-up by the CD player but have been 2 tired & stressed-out 2 mess with it.
Have bn reading, of course. John Williams's INTO THE BADLANDS is pretty good -- a British journalist tracks down crime-fiction writers across America 4 interviews, then compares the cities & surroundings they write about 2 what these places R like in Reality. Williams tracks down Elmore Leonard in Detroit, James Ellroy in LA, Sara Paretsky in Chicago, Tony Hillerman in New Mexico, Carl Hiassen in Miami, Joe Gores in San Francisco & a dozen more. The interviews R great, & the contrasts Btween the towns these folks write about & the reality is pretty cool. Why is it always Brits that come up with these ideas? I'm reminded of Charles Platt's DREAM MAKERS books of interviews with science-fiction writers in the early '80s, tho Williams goes in2 more depth. Worth tracking down if you're a crime fiction fan....
This led me 2 Elmore Leonard after Williams & some other folks raved about him. Leonard's BANDITS is pretty good, fast & funny, tho it was written back around the time of the Contras' Central American conflict in the mid-'80s, so that may date it a bit 4 you. The ending is maybe a touch disappointing, but the book's instantly involving & a lot of fun up 2 the end. I was impressed. Then I bogged down 5 chapters in2 Leonard's MAXIMUM BOB, so I set it aside. Don't wanna overdose on Leonard like I have on others in the past -- James Ellroy, Jack Ketchum, etc. Besides, I'm wondering if I really have the attn span 4 most novels, these days.
Speaking of Ellroy, I then turned 2 his MY DARK PLACES, in which he tries 2 solve the case of his mother's murder. She was killed when he was 10 years old & the killer was never caught -- an event that pretty much shaped the rest of Ellroy's life. The book is dark & compelling, & I enjoyed (if that's the right word) Ellroy's autobiography about what his life was like B4 he Bcame a successful novelist....
Not much since then. Scheduled 4 release in June is Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES: 100 OVERLOOKED PROGRESSIVE AND UNDERGROUND ALBUMS. I've already reserved a copy. Powell is the guy who researched & helped assemble the recent Caravan & Camel best-of's I wrote about here, & oversaw the CD reissue of Hatfield and the North's 1st album a few years back, among other recent archive releases. Powell knows his stuff. I can't wait 4 the book. Maybe Providence'll B in it. Or Gryphon. Group 87. Happy the Man....
...I'll be looking in2 getting a full-time Internet connection at home, tho on my budget it'll B tight. Since I'm apparently going 2 a 5-day work-week, mayB I'll just drop by here 1nce a wk. Or some other local hot spot.
Just wanted y'all 2 know I haven't died or hadda heart attack -- tho the stress has gotten pretty thick the last month or so. The only things that make me feel relaxed or "normal" R mowing the lawn & playing some Olde Favorites on the stereo. Everything else just seems like TOO MUCH STRESS.
I also recommend that you look into summa the music Rastro has written about over at LA HISTORIA DE LA MUSICA ROCK. I heard some of it recently, & some of it has brightened up my life quite a bit over the last month+. Rastro has really good taste. I hope you all R checking him out.
I also hope y'all R living a less stressful life than me, these days.
I have missed this. Without being able 2 "broadcast" now & then I feel like both my arms have been cut off. More soon, I hope....