Friday, 21 June 2013

Books I've Recently Read: Replay By Ken Grimwood (1986)

From Walton: "Ken Grimwood’s Replay (1986) is the story of a man who dies in 1988 and finds himself back in his youthful body and dorm room of 1963 — over and over and over again. He knows the future, he can change the world, but no matter what he changes he’s going to live through twenty-five years and die on that day and start again. And just when you think you know where the book is going, it starts to get really interesting.

The book isn’t just the one gimmick. Grimwood explores the idea in a proper science fictional way, ringing a lot of variations on it. It’s also brilliantly written — tense, taut, fascinating. It’s a quiet almost pastoral character study as much as anything, but when I’m reading it, I can’t put it down. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about it that wasn’t on the lines of: "If that happened to me, I’d...” The idea of re-living your own life while relieved from the burden of money worries and uncertainty is very appealing, and this is part of what makes the book so seductive."

Books I've Recently Read: Our Lady Of Darkness by Fritz Leiber (1978)

From Tangent/Nader Elhefnawy: "Our Lady centers on Franz Westen, a widowed and formerly alcoholic pulp writer with a lot of time on his hands in '70s-era San Francisco (in short, a rather obvious stand-in for Leiber himself) who is intrigued by a figure--a "pale brown thing" he spots in Corona Heights Park from his apartment window. Coincidentally, his eye then falls on a pair of old books he bought years ago--Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities by one Thibaut de Castries, and a journal apparently kept by Clark Ashton Smith of Weird Tales fame--and it strikes him that these might have something to do with that mystery. His fancy tickled, he decides to check out Corona Heights for himself, and what starts as a lark soon enough immerses him in a Lovecraftian mystery amid obscure old books and archives, involving the secret history of San Francisco as influenced by Victorian occultism."

"Leiber, praised by Moorcock in that very same essay as "the best of the older American sf writers," for, among other things, "his wit and his humanity, as well as his abiding contempt for authoritarianism," would seem to live up to that praise with his new take on the Cthulhu mythos, pointedly discarding the older writer's racial and sexual baggage, cutting the implied horrors down to size and using reason to defeat anti-rationalism, all with a spirit of play much like what he previously brought to sword and sorcery in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. It is on this level that Our Lady succeeds--admirably, but problematically, since this approach is best suited for a hardcore readership capable of not only recognizing but appreciating such a spin by one giant of science fiction on the work of another."

Monday, 3 June 2013

Books: Extreme Metaphors: Interviews With J.G.Ballard, 1967-2008: Edited By Simon Sellars And Dan O'Hara

Reading this excellent collection of J.G. Ballard’s interviews I was constantly reminded how off-message he is politically from my own radical left wing albeit libertarian views and how different his class background is from my own, even though he lived very nearby in Shepperton. But oddly (or not) his vision and style resonates so strongly that not only is he my favourite fiction writer but I consider him a major thinker too.

If I approach him as someone purely concerned with the psychological world of his introverted obsessed characters and their response to collapse and catastrophe or the stultifying boredom of modern society, ignoring political solutions or movements, it helps to iron out the deep discrepancies. I believe we are entering an era of crisis, collapse and catastrophe and the bubble of consumerism and affluence we used to live in the West has finally burst. (One predication that J.G. Ballard makes constantly in these interviews, that we would be living in a society of leisure and wealth in the West has proven to be wrong.) How do we grasp psychologically the strange landscapes thrown up by a disintegrating world and what personal satisfactions can we gain from it-if only in an aesthetic sense? These are the disturbing questions JGB asks in his fiction but is it possible to combine ‘inner space’ with the collective political and social project of human emancipation and hope? I really don’t know.

A very interesting review here from the philosopher John Grey (New Statesman.)