Twilight of the Gods (again)

I’ve reached the uncomfortable age when my heroes are dying faster than I accumulated them. A couple of weeks back, it was Brian Aldiss, a fine and inspirational writer who could use the material of traditional pulp SF in ways that made you question everything about your life, your world, and the numerous, all-too-unsubstantiated notions by which we live. He also produced one of the best literary novels of the latter part of the 20th century in Forgotten Life, a book too often overlooked (it had the misfortune to be published within days of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which grabbed all the literary headlines, and a few of the more general ones, too).

And this week, it was Walter Becker, one half (with Donald Fagen) of Steely Dan.

I’ve loved Steely Dan for years. There’s the irresistible (to me) jazz inflection in their tunes and arrangements, the literary and enigmatic lyrics, the SF influences, and – their speciality – the catchy, upbeat, poppy melodies masking sinister, decadent lyrics (check out “Jamie Runaway” or “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”). Becker and Fagen have both had successful solo careers and made fine solo albums (Fagen being the more accomplished), but somehow they were never quite so good apart as they were together. At some point, that chemistry was needed, whether to add a new idea, or hold one back, or shape a line just a little… differently. And now that’s gone. I’m glad I got to see the band in their recent incarnation. I’m glad I have their albums to listen to. But it’s sad to think that such a vital and unique force is no more.

Thanks, Walter.

Thanks, Brian.

The world’s a better place that you were here.

 

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Frankenstein’s E-book

Frankensten’s Prescription is now available on e-book from Tartarus Press, and you can buy it directly from them, or on Amazon. It’s listed at $3.99 over here and I assume an equivalent price in the UK (about £2.50…?). What you miss, of course, are the beautiful Tartarus production values – their books are glorious as objects, never mind what’s written in them. But if you have an e-reader, and a few bucks or quid to spare, take a look. You can find more details of the book itself by clicking on the side-bar here, visiting the Tartarus Press website (http://freepages.pavilion.net/tartarus/fprescription.htm)  or simply chasing up some of the on-line reviews.

This is my second e-book in a couple of months (the story collection, News from Unknown Countries, is available on Amazon). Still new territory but, much as I love the feel of paper, I suspect it’s the way of the future – the equivalent of the paperback revolution of the ’50s and ’60s. It’s quick, cheap, portable, and can be bought wherever you can log in. Look, read, and most of all, enjoy.

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News from Unknown Countries

Anyone with  a Kindle or Kindle app for phone, iPad etc, and in need of a little entertainment? I have a new collection of stories available on Amazon: sf, horror, and generally assorted weirdness. As the blurb puts it,

Inter-dimensional explorers go in search of God, but discover something else has got there first… A hapless academic believes his colleagues are transforming into animals… A woman struggles to survive in a world succumbing to the influence of a hostile alien realm, only to find her protectors far more dangerous than the enemy… A small boy witnesses his uncle’s bizarre efforts to maintain his marriage…
Here is a selection of Tim Lees’s acclaimed short fiction, where everyday reality is just a step from the strange, the sinister, the marvellous… Here is news from the unknown countries of the human soul.

For the US: http://www.amazon.com/News-Countries-Tim-Lees-ebook/dp/B00GM3DV9G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384738334&sr=1-1&keywords=lees+unknown+countries

And for Brits: http://www.amazon.co.uk/News-Countries-Tim-Lees-ebook/dp/B00GM3DV9G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384738334&sr=1-1&keywords=lees+unknown+countries

And, despite the blushes, I can’t resist adding this resounding tweet from TTA Press: Tim Lees is one of the greatest story writers on Earth. Please read this. 

Enjoy.

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Recently Read

Crime authors are ten a penny these days, but mention must be made of Frank Bill’s debut collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana (FSG Originals), where pulp shock-horror confronts a Midwest long since cut out of the American dream. Bill’s characters are worn down by their own lives, desensitized and numb to the needs of others. They kill because it solves their problems, whether the inopportune arrival of a lawman, the burden of an inconvenient lover, or a relative who refuses to die and pass on their inheritance. There’s grim stuff here – I’d never realised how many ways there are to describe somebody being murdered – but also restraint and compassion; in the title story, which centres around dog fighting, we’re spared the grisly details of this so-called “sport” in favour of the grief felt by a man whose dogs have been used for bait. It’s a book in which sensational foreground material is off-set by little touches of humanity and wider political awareness, never hammered home but always lurking in the background: when Able Kirby pimps out his granddaughter to buy drugs, it’s not meth or crack he’s after, but cancer medication for his dying wife.

There are good people in Indiana – my in-laws, for a start – but from now on, when we visit, I’ll keep the car doors firmly locked until we get there.

Those who read Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s monthly The Unwritten (Vertigo comics) will get a great deal of pleasure from the free-standing graphic novel, Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice. Those who don’t read it should. On one level, it inspects the way that stories shape our world; on another, it looks at the fate of poor, confused Tom Taylor, a Christopher Robin figure whose whole life has been dominated by his father’s best-selling children’s books. Is he really the boy magician, Tommy Taylor? This graphic novel answers a few questions and poses more, while juxtaposing a (rather good) Harry Potter pastiche with the sinister manipulations of its fictional author.

For a time it seemed that Carey might linger indefinitely in Neil Gaiman’s lengthy shadow (his excellent Lucifer series was built on Gaiman’s Sandman universe), but with The Unwritten and the earlier, ill-fated Crossing Midnight, not to mention the Felix Castor novels, he has marked out his own territory. Few people in comics or out can provide such sheer entertainment and good story telling.

I’ve finally got round to JG Ballard’s last novel, Kingdom Come. It’s not his best, though still head and shoulders above the competition; and it strikes me as interesting that, for a man whose early novels read like a succession of still lifes, his later thrillers have a real page-turning quality as he exposes the inherent psychopathy of the modern world. He’s a little off the mark in terms of topicality here (unlike his previous book, Millennium People, which so perfectly fingered the malaise of a disappointed middle class), and much of the scenario, with its George Cross-wearing bully boys, recalls Britain in the late ‘70s when the National Front was at its most visible. A move to the right by successive UK governments has taken the demonization of out-groups (immigrants, benefit claimants) from the fringe to mainstream politics, a far more disturbing situation. This, though, is a minor quibble. With his apocalyptic imagery here deployed on the home front, and his trade-mark stylised dialogue, reading this novel is like a reunion with a long-lost friend, reminding me how perceptive and unique Ballard’s work always was. He influenced many, but no-one ever matched him. He is much missed.