23 April 2022

The pasts: some profiles

The past loves spooning,
backing a cold back,
flooring a void,
dipping into a throat, so yum with swallowed tears and snot.
Scraping aching insides. Gutting guts.
The past hasn’t time for algebra,
for irrelevant times. Just add, inexorably, and divide.
And as for “the past is the past”,
that smug advisor rich with inexperience
is blubbering, rubbing its sore arse
while the past can't help but prance on its boots past.
The past wafts not perfume, but pot pourri--
crinkled petals
memory-crenulated touch
mould and rot and ashes
love gone off
blood-red pashes
nostril-stinging taunts
the metallic smell of eggplant that is love.
Rhubarb-crumble friendship
gamey snipes
the fresh itchy sweat from crushing a lawn when shadows fall,
the seaweed ozone of the very young,
and as though exhumed, that dank catacombic breath--the last horrific rattle of the too-soon gone.
The past is that clingy, loving but not quite lovable-enough guilt-inducing friend. The pet, the brat, the insomniac who will not die yet won't lie still awake without attendant present company,
The past is the torturer too many cannot do without.
Yet sometimes the past,
hurtful, howling, whimpering,
"lives" if you could call it that,
never quite believing its state possible: excised, abandoned as, for all it added up to,

05 April 2022

The shame of not keeping up virtual appearances

 It's so much of a relief to see that so many writers and artists I admire are so derelict at keeping up their professional web presence.

Indeed, these elaborate tombs litter the virtual landscape in a historically aberrant way. Raiders have no interest in them, and they seem to have the current value of the past. As ignored and if noted, welcome as the wads of I wuz here chewing gum gracing the darkside of chairs, tables, desks, mattresses--the discarded present turned to unconsciously sculpted concrete.

24 February 2020

The dicey road of a straightforward autobiography--- review of The Child Cephalina by Rebecca Lloyd

The Child Cephalina by Rebecca Lloyd
published by Tartarus Press

A mixed blessing, this novel having been published by the fine but small Tartarus Press, thus escaping a tortuous bone-breaking and reshaping it could have had to make it into a bestseller, titled suitably--Fingered, or Clutchers, or That Child Has Too Much Knowing, or something like Justifiable Obsession--as a creepy but sure-footed fly-on-the-wall ripper of a tale of infatuation, possession, love, jealousy, treachery, faithfulness, sacrifice, belief, and the power of the deeps--all with characters so easy to hate or want to be, their only ambiguities are those deliberate quirkinesses inserted in the right proportions.
Instead, The Child Cephalina, with an unsensational cover instead of one that could scream Lolita, is that most treacherous thing: the whole truth, as told by someone in it. Come to think of it, Lolita was, too, fat lot of respect its narrator earned for telling us like it is. Lolita has stirred up generations of rage and disgust--yet, it, like The Child Cephalina, could be titled, My Excuse. “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight,” says Humbert Humbert, to society’s outrage (just as Lewis Carroll has come to recently) and increasingly open admiration amongst a predatory brotherhood that has no time for love, instead priding itself on its unappreciated existences and ability to strike back.
But to this account of events 100 years earlier than Humbert Humbert’s “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury . . .” with the self-described “fancy prose style”.
A Mr Robert Groves, a respectable writer, has the stolidness and sincerity of the Charles Pooter of Diary of a Nobody fame. Groves, however, is not aspirationally trying to be middle class. He has no interest in decorating, and indeed, is so slovenly, he has to be told by his help to put his pants on because he’s embarrassed the other servants. He lives in a part of London only a stroll from the great Natural History Museum, in a handsome house (owned by his brother) wherein, he tells us “Up until the day the child Cephalina came into our lives [in 1851], Mrs Tetty Brandling was a happy, sloppy woman who snuffled and wheezed her way through the day’s business with good grace.”
There is no more solid road of a read than a straightforward autobiography--though the substrate be euphemistically “damper than it should have been”, perhaps only a few clutching pebbles from falling into the Underworld itself. 

Until I struck a bargain with Tetty, she had the two attic rooms . . . I had thought quite seriously from time to time about joining my brother and his family in Margate where the air is fresh, and had I gone there, I feel I would have been able to make progress with the small book of poetry I had been attempting to write for so long.
But while my work with the children of the streets was ongoing, I was not in a position to move from London to a quieter place. I had been interviewing them since 1848 for which they received a meal and sometimes a bath or some clothing--I recorded a great many aspects of their lives, and came to understand, and I say unashamedly, admire, the courage and ingenuity it takes to be a poor child in London Town.

Henry Mayhew’s voluminous 1851 London Labour and the London Poor did everything Mr Groves hoped his work would do. First of all, London Labour got published and Mayhew was paid for it. It also achieved instant acclaim, though some of the interviewees might have had a different attitude, since, on publication, they formed the Street Traders Protection Association against him.
The two men had some superficial similarities beyond their interests in the poor. At a young age, Mayhew actually left Britain to escape creditors. Later, after achieving success as a journalist and publisher, he escaped the way that the established do: through that time’s equivalent of Chapter 11. Robert Groves would never have done the former. He was both far too timid a character and hopelessly incompetent by his own admission. Unlike Mayhew, who had the gift of gab and wit, and collected other talented authors and artists as socks do, burrs, thus his cofounding of Punch, Robert Groves hadn’t the faintest whiff of wit or possibility of scoundrelism in him. That’s why, as with so many other respectable people of the middle and upper classes, a Tetty was worth her weight in debtors' prison. She not only cleaned and cooked but purchased the necessities, and also had to fend off the unpaid and make the excuses Mr Groves shielded himself from, with her.
And she had to do all this dressed so poorly, it caused her even more shame. And then she, a widow, had to present herself to her family back in the countryside as respectable, a predicament that causes its own predicaments.
Oh, Mr Groves. So kind, so sensitive, so generous, so clueless, so unaware of the repercussions of his good deeds, his saviour impulse--he’s a Victorian Nicholas Kristof. Sensitivities alone could be a massive enough take-away meal in this read, if not for that first clause in Groves’ first sentence.
As Groves’ practical friend says: The lives of girls, you know? How our society . . .?
And there lies the purpose of his cry of the heart to us, his unseen readers. The exploration of loves in this novel is accomplished with the utmost delicacy. No bone is crushed, though the finest earbone is uncovered and brushed free. And not just Groves’.
Beliefs also come into this tale in ways that Groves would be the last to want admitted in--especially since his brother, ever his financial crutch, is an ardent spiritualist who, in contrast to Groves’ barely eeking by, makes a good living writing spiritualist texts.
But his brother isn’t the man of action Groves proves himself to be. Groves isn’t interested in the spirit world, but the one living in the foul stink outdoors. He’s already saved one poor boy, but when the child Cephalina chooses him as her saviour, to the horror of Tetty Brandling, he is not only helpless; he learns he can be devious.
Like Kristof, he forays into a secretive world of a person he doesn’t really know, for a good cause--in his case, to save a child--who has asked him not to spy on her. There he meets the Dickensianly named Clutchers.
It’s not as if Groves doesn’t have good advice. Tetty doesn't mince words:

Something’s afoot, Robert. I can feel it, and this is not just fimble-famble. Perhaps it is that I am seized with the kind of faddy thoughts only a woman gets. Yet, I have always wondered why it is that men are not blessed with faddy thoughts for I know certain sure they could benefit greatly from such a blessing. But God in his glory sees fit to carve men more crudely than he does women . . . perhaps he does not care about them so much.

At this point, I should shut the curtains on any more reveals about the plot. This story does have elements of Dickens--the keen nuancing of wealth, class, and sensitivities. It has the fierceness of outrage, minus the melodrama, about “the unfortunates” that Dickens had, and that that most unappreciated and ignorantly lambasted novel Paul Clifford had, about which its author had high hopes as a social reformer in novel form, partly “to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice”.
But those elements in The Child Cephalina could be backdrops to the main obsession. And as for what’s afoot--“a sordid thing”—this account, because it’s told throughout by a man without a sense of drama, is horror most exquisite.
The byline for The Child Cephalina is Rebecca Lloyd. There’s good reason to believe this is itself, a case of spiritual transportation.
If you like novels about people who can't be summed up--real people who could be laughed at, reviled, and loved for the same deeds (the only kind of fiction worth reading, imo)--I highly recommend The Child CephalinaLloyd is an expert at embedding herself, not only in history, but in characters as foibled and unaware of self as we all are.
My only reservation is one hardly likely to have company in this readership. I am such a die-hard sceptic that I haven't believed what I have seen and felt with my own eyes and hairs on my skin. But Tetty wouldn't have time for such silliness.

23 August 2019

More current than Breaking News--this urgent read with a misleading title might even be a fake novel--Ahab's Return by Jeffrey Ford

There are a rare few books that read as if they were struck into being by lightning, they’re so timely. And there’s no telling when this timeliness will strike. Just out in paperback is a novel that first came out in hardback and e-book editions last year, but over the past few months, days, hours--reads so newly struck, so uncannily relevant--
Cut the anchor!
Only madness can explain why something so perfectly built for a storm, this storm here and now, has been shackled, not even to a real anchor but a mass of fouling--the dead weight of one of those great books people should have read.

Ahab’s Return: or, The Last Voyage was launched a year ago, and though the title and descriptions naturally lead you to believe this a spinoff of Moby Dick, that’s not only wrong, but not only has Jeffrey Ford himself had to say you don’t have to have read that tome to read this, but, Oh, the irony. In Ahab’s Return, an insider, a real person fictionalised in Moby Dick says, ’“That book is a farce. I’ve read it.”

“But you are not Daggoo,” said Ahab. “I remember that.” “No, I am Madi. I have always been Madi... All I brought with me was my name, Madi.”
“I was joyful to be alive. I could go to America a free man and make my way.”
“And then you got here,” I said.

The ‘I’ is George Harrow, the narrator. also a writer, but unlike Ford, he’s a star reporter, an expert in a very particular art and craft.
“You might be the finest confabulator on this godforsaken island.” [says his boss, the editor of the Gorgon Mirror]
His take on that?
“Whereas another might have taken the term to mean liar, I understood it to be an appellation of artistic prowess.”
New York at that time needed no sensational tweaking to titillate, outrage, horrify readers. So Harrow’s readers wanted entertainment, nothing more. And he’d lived as shallow a life as possible, till Ahab turned up looking like something from the dead, but very much alive-- and greed for a sensational story made him a story:

“My detractors didn’t realize that I, George Harrow, was not a do-gooder, an abolitionist, a friend to the downtrodden, a lover of Catholics or the sons and daughters of Africa, nor was I in league with the idiocy of the Know-Nothings, indiscriminate haters of anything other than themselves. No, I was merely an opportunist”’

So our fearful reporter wasn’t giving us hokum when he said:
“It was said that Malbaster was not born from the womb of a woman, but instead coalesced like an angry storm cloud during a riot in the Five Points brought on by nationalist factions attacking a dance where Irish and colored mixed . . . Malbaster, an evil for the ages. I saw him as more a petty criminal with a murderous streak, who used said intolerance as a means of financial gain.”’

No narrator can pick the core of the story they tell, so I'll say that from my pov, it's Seneca Village. There is a manticore in this novel, a killer of marvelously oddball tooth movement, yet it is a banana slug compared to the efficiency of erasure of a place with such significant history that, like Belsen, all you'd need to say is the name.. If only they weren't blacks who owned land and had the right to vote, the atrocities visited upon them as they were dispossessed for the rich, would be spoken of as 'biblical' by Americans. I knew nothing about Seneca Village's tragedy before this novel, yet history does, as it keeps repeating itself, Yet who’s to know if history’s grassed over?
This novel is, I think damned for some time now, and periodically ever after, to be so relevant, it's creepy, and fascinating. Indeed, from the first paragraph, it's a veritable squid-hook of a multi-pronged approach. Bad stuff and weird shit happens. Truth is caught in a classic quicksand trap. A mythic beast can still chew through a man's neck fast as a woodchuck could chew corn.
But the main thing is: Jeffrey Ford's tale telling is pure, old-fashioned joy to read--and proof that a novel can be enthralling and a page turner of suspense as well as being a cattle prod of a stimulation to see what’s happening, this very moment, around us and in places we’re not supposed to see, including history..
He delights in throwing readers into different times and places (I recommend, in addition to this book set in New York City in the 1850s, his The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, set also in NYC, but in the 1890s.) You will feel that you are in wherever he throws you because he so much lives there that he's walked the streets, though they be ghosts now. You will never find, in any Jeffrey Ford confabulation, the slightest whiff of that cheap seducer that turns characters into generic jokes--the movie script. Yet his constant state of curiosity and his adventurous mind has made him a magpie..
There will always be some expertise for the curious and curiouser, some unusual state of being, creature, condition--something that he throws into the tale because it naturally, belongs there, or will belong--for his fiction, no matter how close the relationship between reality and the imagined--is never affected, never played for the superficial shock, never, thank the gods, 'quirky'.
He must have fun playing, too. I loved his laziness, that sitting back and letting another storyteller do all the work. This is how Wodehouse got more rounds of golf in, playing while Mulliner talked himself hoarse at the clubhouse bar. Ford’s guy not only takes on the whole job of narration, but he treats us to excerpts from his own writing, about which, though he’s a pro, he’s both embarrassed and proud about, and forced to defend.

“I’ve got years of experience investigating stories.” [he says]“But why do you investigate them when you’re just going to grind them into a spread of fiddle-faddle?”“Don’t you understand that there can be a certain truth in fiction?”

And there we have it. Is the hokumist a fake, too?

I didn’t mention that there are so many passages that I wanted to revisit, I had to buy not only the hardback when it came out, for the physical pleasure of reading, but the e-edition because my hard copy started looking like a porcupine.

(and finally, an apology. I love Jeffrey Ford's writing, yet this novel stands out as particularly important, a milestone of a novel, something that belongs with Dos Passos and Cather, Sinclair Lewis and Dreiser. I would hate for it, so readable, so unpretentious, so necessary, to miss the readership it deserves. And so I've wasted many hours and many drafts composing what in the end, I flung upon this 'page as a matter of urgency, as another mention and recommendation, for every one counts and is necessary in this growing storm.)

But is this novel even a novel?
Ford has often written of something unbelievable but true, a lifeform that's no myth, something that looks like one thing but is something else. This time he's created that very thing--a historical novel that's being born again, faster and faster, as breaking news and news that doesn't break but lives like a guinea worm, under the surface, but unerring in achieving its dreadful goal.

03 May 2019

America's Great Red Party: Trump's Radical Socialists

Democrats! Responsible media, or should I say, “Idiots!”

On a bed of mashed red party, Trump has stretched his generous bulk out for you, red tie, flaming pants and all. He even roasted himself and stuck the apple in his mouth. And what are you doing? 
Getting stories like this by Matt Viser in the Washington Post: 
For months, President Trump and his allies have tried to cast his Democratic challengers as radical socialists bent on yanking the country much further to the left than most Americans might find comfortable.--Joe Biden’s message to Donald Trump: I’m no socialist
And that’s it?
Back in February, “With reelection looming and his wall all but defeated, the president sees a convenient political target on the left”, David A Graham wrote in The Atlantic--Trump's New Red Scare

Now it’s Red Scare time full on across the country, typified by this AP headline. GOP hoping voters open to warnings of Democrats' socialism

“Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.”President Donald Trump, speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 2, 2019

Which president and which congress have worked hardest to achieve that, and succeeded to such a degree, they’ve not only achieved unprecedented redistribution, but have instituted root and branch change in government itself--changes meant to be so fundamental, they are not impacted by elections?

Trump and the Trumpian Republican Party are not just socialists, but radical socialists.

Today’s Democrats who declare themselves so socialist and profess to be so radical are mewling fakes compared to the Trumpian Reds. Universal health care? That's such a basic given in democracies such as Australia, it's thought of as 'socialist' as much as all the other featured taken for granteds basic in a civil society--socialist stuff such as sanitation, public parks, roads, civil and military protection. Democrats have never been true socialists, and it's counterproductive for the Dems who are running as socialists to claim they are, for the word is a scary one to Americans--one that no one who wants to win in America should call themselves, hoping to win. Republicans surely don't. They just use socialism to rule.

Although there have been Republican administrations such as Warren Harding’s that have made decent strides, they were incompetent.

And while it is true that, as old headlines state, “[The]Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks and that “In Trump and Kushner's world, other people pay taxes”--that amount of socialism is chump change to today's radical reds. Robert Reich describes it well in “Trump offers socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else
"To a conservative mind, socialism is getting somethingfor nothing. Yet this is what the president promotes for the wealthy.”

Whatwith his work ethic, Trump can’t take all the credit for the Republicans’ masterpiece of radical socialist redistribution, their tax package. Yet he doesn’t need that to establish him as the greatest radical socialist president the world has ever known. 

It's sad, so sad, therefore, that this achievement isn't appreciated and lauded loudly, as it should be. Tom Nichols merely writes this headline, for instance, in the Atlantic:
Trump Goes Beyond Cronyism—To Something Far Worse--"By naming people such as Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to top jobs, Trump converts the machinery of government to his personal use.”
As Trump has said, “Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.”
What better for that class, therefore, if it’s a class of one?

Will Democrats praise him and the Republicans for being the revolutionary radical socialists they are? Will Democrats tell Americans how socialist America actually is, and who benefits from it and how much it costs? Will Democrats show how much they who pay taxes support the parasites on the people, and just who these people and corporations, uh, "people" that socialism provides for so generously, are?

“I want you to put socialism on trial,” said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow in a speech at CPAC, Feb. 27.

Everybody should. Republican Red socialism.

23 August 2018

Eileen Gunn, Curator of Absurdities

I've been, frankly, chicken to write about Eileen Gunn's fiction, because she's done so much that is important, and her scope is much greater than the books I’ve read to compare to, but I want to say something, so here's my blurtings. I first fell in love with her stories from the collaborations with the equally intimidating to write about Rudy Rucker in Rucker's insanely smart, fun, crazy online magazine Flurb: A Webzine of Astonishing Tales.  (Gunn herself was the key miscreant responsible for an equally addictive but totally different webzine, Infinite Matrix.) But to get a proper dose of Gunn, there's nothing to equal a collection.

These two important collections are like Gunn herself--so supremely cool in their lack of pose yet so richly diverse and deep and generous that you end up learning stuff you didn’t mean to, laughing wryly and getting on top of stuff that was destroying you, getting moved to move the immovable, even feeling deeply about someone you don’t necessarily want to be. Quite Marvelessly, Gunn does this to you with not a superhero in sight. I wondered about her sense of humour and satire, which makes me think first, of Gogol; second, of Norbert Davis; but third, of Nabokov, so I wasn’t surprised to learn she’s fluent in Russian, has lived in many places, and done a great many things, including being a key worker in a corporate hive.

Unlike many writers, especially those who’ve been moulded by an MFA, she doesn’t try to create an absurdity or sprinkle odd things in, or twist the plot, to make some nothingstory quirky.

foreword by William Gibson
afterword by Howard Waldrop

Gunn’s a curator of absurdities--of the real life dimension. I can’t imagine her constructing a story out of the prescribed elements. Nor does she try for tricky interesting language effects. Her own voice when writing about organisations, for instance, seems to burst forth from a well of experience and fedupness (so the very funny and famous "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" told in a matter-of-fact tone, might have sprung from Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, but gets far more mileage with readers because it does it with the engineered lightness of, say, David Langford’s The Leaky Establishment).

She is also a constantly curious delver into the generally unknown, so her stories are often like a Cracker Jack box would be, mid-last century, to a five-year old who's eating away till, !!!--for this kid must have lived in a cave far from Howdy Doody tunes and therefore never heard there’s a prize in every box. Awesome knowledge coming as a surprise gift--Jeffrey Ford does this too, and in the hands of writers as smooth and ego-invisible as these two, the stuff we learn is an intrinsic part of what makes the stories so memorable, be it snowflake collecting from Ford, or phantom-limb hauntings from Gunn.

If this were a different time, I wouldn’t compare Gunn to anyone, for I think her stories have their own voices, none of them being anyone but Gunn in service to them, or in her collaborations, a certain seamless synergy that works a treat. My favourite collabs are with Rudy Rucker. These two writers are intimidatingly smart but don’t act or write like that. Instead, this duo produces fun, smart stories that I’d call ‘screwball’ to their own design. And as is usual with their individual works, there’s serious stuff aplenty there--just not with any pretentious labels.

As Gunn has often been called a writer of science fiction, it is in this capacity that I am the most frightened to say anything, for my perception might be too screwy to expose without ridicule, but here goes.

Science fiction has often been burdened by having to be either Present / Future or P \ F. Rarely is it P?! > F?!, which I would define as seeing the future not with any foundation of optimism or pessimism, but with the realism of today’s absurdities continuing to their logical future. This is how I see Lem’s immortal works, and I think it was the ruse of science fiction, and satiric at that, that allowed him free rein to write about the future as fiercely as he regarded the present. I think Gunn does this too, making her science fiction all the more meaningful to this reader.

Mind you, this isn’t some Praise Be session. I don’t love everything she writes. My personal taste prejudices stuck to me like fleas when it came to “The Steampunk Quartet”, first published by Tor. It’s not so much that I’m not into steampunk. I’m not, but I can stomach it when it comes to the brilliant Gail Carriger, though I’m hanging out for her to outgrow steampunk and invent her own new genre. So it's not steampunk in the Quartet that gives me gas, but the towering genius of China Miéville: and since I’ve tied on my concrete boots, I may as well sink myself so deep, my bubbles won't reach the surface, by adding that celebrated “recluse”, Thomas Ligotti. But some of my best friends find much in these two, as they do, one of the most quoted of all authors, the man who penned “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Just kidding. I don’t know anyone but me who admits to a regard for Edward Bulwer-Lytton. No, some of my best friends are Lovecraftians; but we must all see the good in people and ignore the parts every right-minded cephalopod would want treated with extreme prejudice.

imo, Gunn’s best when she writes alone and in her own strong, service-to-her-story way. I think it is her humbleness in the presence of the story itself, that makes her a great writer and natural storyteller.

unquestionably excellent, and 
as with Stable Strategies,
unusually pleasurable 
book design
by John. D. Berry
who also designed the font as though 
he tailored it to fit Gunn.
Published by the excellent,
easy to buy from Small Beer Press

I’ve spoken of her finely honed sense of humour and satire, but she’s got such a broad range that satire is only one of her methods of getting into our heads and hearts. In her aptly titled Questionable Practices (she’s got a great feel for titles) one story above all shows this range. Heartbreaking tragedy is made all the more powerful by the way it is told, with shifting points of view and interjections of painless, succinct Dummies’ level information. In the hands of another writer, this could have turned into a mess, but Gunn’s depth of emotional involvement. knowledge and feel for what she is talking about, and control of her elements makes “Phantom Pain” a perfect story to end this collection--with a resounding whisper. 

EXTRA: The portions of both books that are not fiction are not decoder rings, but positively clutchably precious. There're prizes of info in both collections,
but few other authors will give you, for free, 
a tale of a delicious, successful, lie. 
And a bonus. A Secret that Really Works.

28 February 2018

Nature's post-production techniques

Nature is extravagant. But you, too, can afford what is used here, for it is all open-source.

Natural light, shade, and colours; dissolution, drying, soaking, and a certain amount of rot. Additional lens is 10-60mm thick seawater.

09 January 2018

on The Sometimes Spurious Travels Through Time and Space of James Ovit by Garry Kilworth

"If I am to be kept in the dark, I have no idea what can be said and what can't. You cannot withhold information from me, simply giving me hints that a crisis is about to occur, then expect me to say the right things."

No, this isn’t Rex Tillerson or anyone in what’s left of the US State Department. It’s James Ovit, truth-telling in the self-deprecatedly titled The Sometimes Spurious Travels Through Time and Space of James Ovit--dubbed by the publisher all too skeptically “a science fiction novel in three parts”.
A science fiction novel in three parts

This so-called novel is really a journal by one who, wherever he goes, whenever, seems to prove that the more things change...
"I was sleeping with an extra-terrestrial, a creature from outer space, one of those beings that were inscrutable to Homo Sapiens and had to be watched in case they had malevolent designs on my home planet, a world which was by definition better than any other."
though, like the Brexiteers pointed out to their dishonest benefit, experts don’t necessarily know all.
 "One does not have to travel naked through time."
Actually, I copied so many parts of this journal that I found wry truth in, that I should stop here, because you should be the one to get the same thrill that I have. As with all the best kind of fiction (to my taste) the thrill is based on the state of the real world, producing that complexity of reactions--wry, tragic, infuriating, funny, horrific, teetering, touching--all that, and this novel which reeks of integrity and knowledge, manages to be a page turner of the first order.

Although almost no one has heard of The Sometimes Spurious Travels Through Time and Space of James Ovit, it should be as known as the fiercely funny Glenfiddich Award-winning Something Quite Big about NATO by Alan Davidson, a self-deprecating hard-bitten idealist who'd had to live in a pragmatist's armour till he threw it off, spectacularly with this book of his that had the good fortune to be banned.

But it lacks that thrilling page-turningness and weird disparity mixing that one can rely on in a Garry Kilworth tale. And it also lacks the insane brilliance of tossing three books into the air together to make such a class, fearlessly symmetrical, synergistic act.

As a political satire and intrigue, The Sometimes Spurious Travels Through Time and Space of James Ovit has the quality and timelessness, and often, humour, of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s immortal Yes Minister (Yes, there's a Brexit Special); the added bile of that interstellar traveller Ijon Tichy’s diaries that spanned 30 years of the mortal Stanislaw Lem's life to put to our primitive paper; the added touches of whimsy that remind me of another favourite out-of-this-world diplomat, Henghis Hapthorn, captured in tales by Matthew Hughes

But Garry Kilworth’s creation is entirely his own, with his own style and such an idiosyncratic and rich well of knowledge, life experience and skills he draws on that often, passages aren’t just fascinating, but rather breathtakingly beautiful, like the rainbows on rotted meat.
"When I was a child there was no need to roam far away from one's home because the world came to your kitchen door...the rag 'n' bone man who would give me a goldfish in a jam jar in exchange for any unwanted items (even jam jars from the kitchen waste)...Until I was ten years old, I had not even visited the next village, two miles away. Then my father died of gangrene of the leg when his scythe sliced away part of his calf. He was drunk at the time, having been drawn into the pub on his way back to the hay cutting after dinner one Saturday. He patched himself up, without washing the wound, and finished his day's work. On finding it did not get better, he again treated himself. We could not afford a visit to the doctor believing it would eventually get better on its own. He didn't want to worry his family over a 'scratch'."
And in all this, there are nuggets throughout of matter-of-fact asides, coming out of the blue like elbow jabs from a spirit.
"If we had time travel in the 1950s, it would be passé by now, wouldn't it?"
Oh, and it's a love story, too, cardboard-character free. Outrageous cheek in a political satire, let alone a science fiction whatever.

The worst thing about this unique book is that Garry Kilworth is one of the finest short story writers today, who hasn’t burnt out but should have. He shouldn’t have been able to bring off this ambitious novel, too. But he has. He brings out expectations that he should damn well fulfill. 

So, Garry Kilworth, if you can't, supposedly because you slime out by calling yourself just a writer or something equally weasily, get James Ovit to do it: Change the course of history to make the current history we’re all swimming in, fake.

01 July 2017

Nothing less than a life's companion - review of Oothangbart by Rebecca Lloyd

Do you feel as Donal Shaun Hercule Poseidon put it? "That's all?" Donal asked. "Is there nothing more?"

Now when to read news is to feel bathed in toxic sludge; when time is commonly cut into measly little parcels; do you feel as so many do, one with Donal: "It was as if the whole of his insides were writhing in an unnatural manner, and he often felt as if he was choking...He wanted only to fling back his chair, leave the building and run forever." 

Do you also feel that timeless conflict of meetings--making you imagine murder while also wishing you could make yourself disappear? Do bullying cowards take up all your air; and do you feel scorched as fear of the other, the unknown, fear of a new thought is being stoked to the ambience of hell? But hell, who has time to think let along daydream. And what if someone finds out you actually contemplate? In Oothangbart where Donal lives, even the wonderful and new is viewed with the alarm of Chicken Little.

If you feel as choked by all this even though you don't live where Donal does, in a town as impossible to spell as Woolfardisworthy or Poughkeepsie (Oothangbart is also renowned in every citizen's greeting for its perfection and exceptionalism), now there is no better antidote than a little unassuming book published last year--a book that not only identifies but crucially, frees.

published by Pillar International
"a teeny-tiny independent publisher based in Limerick, Ireland"

Oothangbart, a Subversive Fable for Adults and Bears by Rebecca Lloyd could be called “Orwell’s Animal Farm for the Age of Team Players” but it is so much more. The gripping solution in Oothangbart is imbued with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was not only the driver of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but who said, "You must do the things you think you cannot do."

Simply but powerfully written in a wholly natural style, but one with so many parts I want to read again that my physical copy bristles with pink slips (like all Steve Aylett's books, which are rife with perfectly put, often tragically funny aphorisms about modern society), no reader of Oothangbart should be embarrassed to admit that what happened to me, does to you. When I finished the last page, my cheeks were literally wet with joy. This book is not just about society but friendship, love, revolution: kites, not flags, oh my!

Oothangbart, a Subversive Fable for Adults and Bears is a mess of a title. Who can remember that? But soon, enough, subversion insidiates, for this story is our very lives: a complex metaphor for so many parts of society, from the social escalator of success for the successful, to the fear and aversion to the different and foreign that I've had a hard time writing anything about it, for the thought "That's positively Oothangbartian" has hit me constantly since finishing it, and I've been tempted to share these parallels. Not that you need them. What you do need is the honest reassurance that Lloyd's chapter 2 title: A PERVERSE THOUGHT fits the book as perfectly as a drug label round a bottle.

Some of it is even so damn true but unadmitted, it's explosively funny. True bagels (yes, there be bagels here as well as bears), not the ubiquitous 'bagels' like those blueberry fluffies in the vending machine at the Seoul airport, are well and truly heavy as stones, and quite as indigestible. But the things people, uh, bears, do for love...

It's perverse, brave, stirring, as perfectly pitched to the ridiculously real as the Academy of Projectors in Lagado that Gulliver reported; or Nobel-laureate Sydney Brenner's advice in his collection of essays, Loose Ends in Biology: "I have personally found it extremely useful, when dealing with managers, to invert all the catch phrases and exhortations."

Oh, hell. This gem is so "Positively Oothangbartian" I'm not strong enough to leave it out. "There are people getting degrees in biological sciences at the best universities in America today who don't know the names of anything outdoors, who have never studied anything but a cell." -- Jonathan Foley, exec director, California Academy of Sciences ("The Meaning of Lichen" by Erica Gies, Scientific American, June 2017)

in Oothangbart:
Everything seemed senseless; every effort he’d made to be sociable with fellows he had no feeling for at work, every pleasant greeting he’d given to pompous types who could ride The Escalator, seemed futile.
    If obedience was its own reward it surely meant that a fellow was waiting for nothing at all, and how could waiting itself be desirable when it took up time? One could wait forever in Oothangbart doing all one was told by fellows in high positions and at the end of it all nothing would be different. Throwing himself down into the folds and dust of his sofa, he lay with his arms covering his head and thought about the Time of Dreaming.
The smallmindedness that reigns supreme now in too many places is torn to shreds and fed to the fishes in this glorious novel. The misfit Hutchinson, one of the unforgettable characters here, reminds me of the great Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who said “Deliverance will not come from the rushing, noisy centers of civilization. It will come from the lonely places.” And though I said I wouldn't, I must give yet another example of the way this book is like a spiderweb, its triplines reaching out in all directions:

From the 27/6/2017 PBS Newshour interview of Jason Isbell, singer-songwriter and guitarist--"A lot of people that I grew up with, went to school with in Alabama, and a lot of people in my family who told me growing up that cities were terrible places and anything outside of our little circle was scary and dangerous and frightening. And I thought about the effect that had on people, when you start to believe that, and you let yourself be so afraid of other people and the outside world, that you never feel tethered, you never feel a connection with the rest of humanity. So, I wrote that song based on that kind of fear."

Rebecca Lloyd's timeless Oothangbart sings, too. Read it, give it, read it to someone you love in the small time you snatch between... or as Lloyd writes in the Afterword “This book is for people who hate the typical work hierarchy that if drawn as a symbol looks like a pointed white-faced clown hat without the bobbles, and it is for ...” But Lloyd is wrong to limit. Oothangbart, just as freedom, is for everyone.

Finally, I said I wouldn't bring up endless connections, but as there's no penalty these days for lying, there's something else that needs saying and quoting. It's really as remarkably easy to write a book as it is to steal someone's time with mindless entertainment or hypocritical "The sky has fallen!" literature for people with enough leisure to enjoy the mudbath. But literature and life itself can be so much more.

As Rikki Ducornet says, in The Monstrous and the Marvelous (a deeply inspiring collection of her essays)--
I insist: it is not only our right, but our responsibility to follow our imaginations' enchanted paths wherever they would lead us; to heed those voices that inhabit our most secret (and sacred) spaces...It is precisely this capacity for invention that makes the world worth wanting. The capacity to dream very high dreams and to sing--as did the ancients of Dreamtime--songs potent enough to engender a universe. Those who ask us to deny our dreams would pillage our valley of marvels...would deny that the frontiers of the novel, our first love, are infinite.
Rebecca Lloyd, short story writer and novelist, has refused to be denied, and in following her imagination of the possible, has created one of those rare books that becomes a life's companion on the endless paths it opens up.

The Book Depository (free international shipping, though this book should be published in many countries and languages)

01 February 2017

A tense flight—Prayers at 30,000 ft

“Oh, no,” I thought with fear and dread as I got in my right-side aisle seat on the 8-hour Kuala Lumpur/ Sydney flight. A young woman in a chador settled herself and her two children in the middle row just ahead of mine. Her husband was separated by the aisle, so I was directly behind him. Children! If only they could be flown as baggage.

The woman was in her mid-twenties, her husband maybe mid-thirties tops. Both were unusually good looking. He and the little girl and boy were dressed as if they lived in a middle-class suburb of Sydney and were going out for a special occasion. Casual nice. The mother settled the children with no fuss. Indeed, through the whole flight, those three were passengers to die for. Quite unlike the flight from Vienna where a bloke who would make Crocodile Dundee look like George Clooney, walked on my seat to get to his, pawed through a basket of hot rolls proffered by the stewardess until she told him to get his mitts off, and drank beer after beer, carefully placing his empty tinnies at my feet.

But back to the family. Husband and wife occasionally whispered across the aisle, but otherwise kept to themselves, she busying herself making sure the children were cared for and quiet, and comforting her daughter when the little girl vomited from what looked more like exhaustion and fear than airsickness.

The father/husband was something else. He was the busy sort, and as soon as the screen was available, channel surfed until he got to the Koran. Several times during the flight, he went to this channel. At other times, he surfed the games channel and played several. But whatever he was doing was always interrupted by him bending over and nervously tweaking the contents of a large plastic bag at his feet. I couldn’t see it, but could hear the plastic. He watched two movies--something with Sandra Bullock, and The Devil Wears Prada. But that bag seemed to obsess him.

On the flight, we were given enough junk food snacks that I stored them up, and offered them to the mother for her children. She thanked me in fluent English, and her husband turned around to chime in.

In the same centre row as the woman and her children, was a man in his mid-twenties and his woman. That’s said deliberately. She was almost a cliché, she was so much his. He’d wrap his arm around her neck in a proprietal lock, and talk to her with the assurance and menace of her being a possession. She never said a word that I heard. Now, I don’t usually crane to see everything everywhere, but he was impossible to ignore. He drank, ranted in pure Australian the whole time, and kept jerking back the seats in front of him, loudly demanding their occupants agree with him, all with the friendly insistence of the drunk. His woman had her eyes closed most of the time as if she was asleep. The staff tried their best, but were ineffective as recorking champagne.
And all the while, the man in front of me kept rifling through that mysterious bag.

When we finally landed, the captain’s announcement wasn’t that we had landed, but to keep to our seats because we were to be boarded by federal police.

They took away the creep, to muted clapping.

Soon, I finally had a chance to see the bag. It was a tough plastic, a brand bag, and it said “UNHCR: United Nations High Commission for Refugees” illustrated with those unforgettable uplifted-in-support hands.

The family was in front of me in the wog entry queue, for I also, am an immigrant without an Australian passport.

I remembered my first day in Australia, when I fumbled paying on my first bus here. The driver took the money from my hand with a smile, and a “She’s right, luv.”

The family and I were just about to be called, each to an immigration official, so I had to speak up. There was so much to say, but all I had time for was, “I hope you’re treated well here.”

“Thank you,” said the woman, as the man distractedly nodded my way as they stepped forward left.

* * *

I can’t stop thinking of them now. How, even with our often inhumane Australian government treatment of refugees and the serious infestation of bigots in our parliament, it was probably a good thing that those refugees were coming to Australia, and a bloody good thing they weren’t on an American flight.

The Koran is bad enough, but imagine the horror if someone saw the guy reading Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on ... I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:" As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal"; Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, Since God is marching on . . .

And if someone doesn’t know songs, how could anyone blame anyone for not realising a person could be innocently reading that sword of God shit to become an American citizen? How could the vigilant think anything but “TERRORIST!”

Indeed, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was sung by the cream of US leaders in Washington DC’s National Cathedral as one of the first 9/11 responses, and will most likely be again, since it goes on to say, quite comfortingly to those who have gained yuge, unpresidented power and call America a Christian country: In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.

(and yeah, eternal noseyness is my creed, so I was as stickybeaky on this flight as years ago, in a Moscow hotel when I eavesdropped on a bunch of American Christian evangelists planning their campaign while flipping pages in large ringbinders labelled To Russia With Love.)