2.26.2012

Do You Have The Dune Encyclopedia? ... I Do!!!



Thank you to The Bookman of Orange for allowing me to whittle down their asking price for this out of print oddity I've had my eye on since I was a teenager in the Eighties.  Note that the compendium spanning 19,000 years of galactic history preceding The Spacing Guild's rise to power in the imperium, through their then ensuing 10,000 year reign that ended with the messianic arrival of Muad'Dib (a.k.a., Paul Atreides, who conquered the evil Harkonnen empire when he liberated the planet Arrakis, otherwise known as the planet "Dune"), as well as a further 5,000 years of continuing space opera and planetary conflict, was not authored by Frank Herbert (excepting a brief preface to the text in which he gave his blessing to the book in November, 1983, two-and-a-half years before he died), but rather "compiled" and further extrapolated upon the known fiction and passing factoids of Frank Herbert by the late Dr. Willis E. McNelly.  It is an unbelievable acquisition for any Dune Diehard; a veritable Mecca of arcana for any Dune Dork or Dune Dweeb still inhabiting the galaxy and still making regular pilgrimages throughout their lives to the sacred pages of Dune, like yours truly.

Published in 1984 and not reprinted since, The Dune Encyclopedia encompasses only the inimitable universe of Frank Herbert's first four novels in the Dune Chronicles: the original Dune (1965); Dune Messiah (1969); Children of Dune (1976); and God, Emperor of Dune (1981).  Which for my money were the best books of the bunch.  Herbert's final two Dune novels -- published after The Dune Encyclopedia hit bookstore shelves but released just in time for David Lynch's truly terrible film adaptation of Dune -- Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse: Dune (1986), lost me somewhat in their denser philosophical leanings, big novel-of-ideas slim on the action adventure, heroics and exciting narratives that mostly comprised the first four sagas in the series and kept this teenager up reading late into the night.

The Dune Encyclopedia is 526 double-margin pages of teensy print, with elaborate illustrations; statistics; diagrams; genealogies; charts; calendars; Dune Tarot cards(!); selected translations of the Fremen's Arabic-influenced vocabulary; "sound and morphology changes" in the history of the Galach lexicon; Gurney Halleck's music scores and lyrics; excerpts of never-before-published Fremen poetry; castle blueprints; extended biographies of little-known characters; the chemical composition and molecular structure drawing of melange or "the spice" that made planet Dune so politically volatile as the Great Houses constantly vied for its acquisition with never-ending violence, much like countries here on Earth do for oil!; voluminous footnotes; various faiths under the jurisdiction of the "Orange Catholic Bible"; a litany of "further references", and a fabulous faux-bibliography "cataloging the Rakis finds" that includes over 360 book and/or article citations, all of it reminiscent of those old World Book Encyclopedias from the Sixties and Seventies -- every letter of the alphabet it's own tome! -- that showed me the world, in abbreviated summary form, one alphabetized entry at a time, and so fascinated me as a boy.

Here's to encyclopedias!  Here's to Dune!  Long may they both live.

2.21.2012

Happy 50th Birthday, David Foster Wallace!



David Foster Wallace would've turned 50 today.

The man just gets better with age. Three or four of us have been reading Infinite Jest and discussing their first experience with it in the Infinite Jesters group in LibraryThing.  I'm tagging along, re-reading sections of my favorite tome in tandem with whatever vignette from the book comes up in the occasional discussion.  The book still resonates as deeply with me today as it did eleven years ago when I first read it, that magical time of awe and wonder in my reading life when the very experience of reading itself was forever altered, amped up eleven thousand notches, elevated to an entirely heretofore unknown, unique and unexpected level of challenge and intensity that I'd never even remotely encountered or could have possibly envisioned before in a novel ....  I guess what I wrote a couple years ago remains true for me today: I'm Still Obsessed with Infinite Jest.

2.18.2012

Stephen Wright on Writing (and Readers) and Going Native




Stephen Wright was so discouraged after the commercial failures of M31: A Family Romance, his second novel (1988), and Going Native, his third (1994), that he almost quit writing for good.  In his view, writing is a partnership between the author and reader, and without the latter (or at least enough of the latter), he felt his writing wasn't complete, so why bother continue writing?

Wright's perspective runs counter to what I think is a general perception (or at least my perception I've gleaned from writers over the years) regarding why writers write in the first place; namely, that they write for themselves!  Because they have to write no matter what, right?  Because they wouldn't be happy or fulfilled or complete as persons if they weren't writing.  And that means writing regardless of the reaction of their readers (or critics), and that it doesn't matter whether their books sell more copies than some obscure volume of poetry or not, because the point of writing for them is the writing and nothing but the writing (and not their book sales) right?

Apparently not for Stephen Wright.  Listening to him speak about his novel's "failure" or becoming depressed about just the idea of a possible future bad review (merely hypothetically speaking, contingent entirely upon such a bad review even materializing) in influential book forums like the New York Times, that can kill a book even before it hits the streets, reveals a vulnerability and endearing authorial anxiety that is eye-opening and inspiring in its transparency.  Most writers won't admit stuff like that publicly.  They won't admit that they've quit writing because of bad press or poor sales.  Granted, Stephen Wright, thankfully, didn't quit writing permanently, but he did quit for a time because of the apathetic if not outright negative reception his early novels received.  I've heard many writers admit they've wanted to quit, but few who ever literally quit writing for any extended period of time solely because their writing didn't attract enough readers.

I find what Stephen Wright has to say on the writer-reader relationship in his 2006 interview with Patrick Ambrose in The Morning News refreshing, encouraging even, hearing how honest he is about his despondency over his books finding few fans, stacked instead on the discount remainder tables of bookstores like so much abundant manna from Hell. Read the interview here in "Stephen Wright's Literary Landscape".

I should add that Stephen Wright's Going Native was included in Larry McAffery's The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction, in the thirteenth slot no less, one notch ahead of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano.  Heady, complimentary company.  Not bad for a book that didn't sell!  Going Native is my sole Stephen Wright read so far, and even though it's been over a decade since I read it, I'm proud proclaiming without embarrassment that I nearly went native myself reading it (gladly went mad every chapter) and cringed page after outrageous page, it was so good. Sublime satire of the American Dream in all its rugged individualist violent ingloriousness; a sort of over the top, anti-On the Road with carbines; or, one better, a souped-up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (with Uzis) that makes Kerouac's supposedly ultra-subversive commentary of U.S.A. look like some quaint and cozy Norman Rockwell portrait by comparison, and gives Hunter S. Thompson some stiff competition in the debauched, completely crazed, hyper-Gonzofied, Boys Gone Wild department.

Robert Coover, a book blurber's maestro if there ever was one, says it much better, frankly the best:  "Imagine a pornographic twilight zone of bee bee-eyed serial killers, drug-stunned pants-dropping road-warriors and 'marauding armies of mental vampires,' a nightmarish country of unparalleled savagery, where there is no longer any membrane between screen and life and the monster image feed is inexhaustible and the good guys are the scariest ones of all ...."

William Gaddis had Going Native in his library too.  The only reason I know that arcane fact is because I'm presently engaged in cataloging Gaddis' LT legacy library, with the help of a devil who's also an online bud, and was jazzed to see that Gaddis not only had Going Native on his shelves, but had it housed in the West Library of his estate, where he kept many of his books that were most important to him.  What more of an Independent reason do you need to go read Going Native? Larry McAffery loves it; Robert Coover practically makes linguistic love to it; William Gaddis, in the least, owned it, and Freeque says you'd be a fool (unless you're super-squeamish) not to read it!  So go read it!  Now.  And give Going Native (before I start going native), and Stephen Wright, the additional readers and the love this neglected writer of the most sanely-deranged novel deserves ....

2.15.2012

Pimping Green Integer Press and Their Poetry Blog, PIP

Green Integer is a fascinating press.  I love their half-sized pocket books of poetry and obscure novels, packed with weighty, provocative ideas, like Ole Sarvig's, The Sea Below My Window (Green Integer 72).

Green Integer's publisher, Douglas Messerli, has had a poetry blog running for twelve years -- The PIP (Project for Innovative Poetry) -- and I think it's high time I pimped it.  He just posted some interesting pieces on Harry Mathews' poetry, a writer perhaps better known for the innovative novels Cigarettes and Tlooth; and on the Oulipo movement in literature, of which Mathews has remained a vital part in even as the movement itself has faded in influence over the last thirty years.  Faded in influence or not, I still love the writers of Oulipo; namely Georges Perec (Life, A User's Manual), Gilbert Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew; The Orangery), and Walter Abish's (Alphabetical Africa) contributions to the group.  There are dozens of other accomplished writers in Oulipo I've just not gotten around to reading, but hope to soon.



2.13.2012

Steve Erickson's Days Between Stations: In Brief



Steve Erickson is like the Pink Floyd of modern novelists,
and Days Between Stations is his Dark Side of the Moon.



1st printing
Erickson's debut from 1985 is one of the most gnostic of more contemporary novels I've encountered. I tried for about a month to explain it all in a real review, draft after crumpled draft, and finally cut my losses with the opening one-liner above.  I've never been able to adequately encapsulate any of the four novels of Steve Erickson's I've read -- the three others so far being Tours of the Black ClockThe Sea Came in at Midnight, and Our Ecstatic Days -- but maybe that's a good thing, testament to the preternatural imagination and mysticism of Erickson's that permeates the spare pages of his mesmerizing novel's universe where "the clocks have all stopped" and mysterious rooms are self-lit without any known sources of electricity or natural light: these "stations" of the novel's title that serve only a select few hyper-attuned inhabitants of Paris and Los Angeles living simultaneously in the present and past; characters who may or may not be incarnations of characters who've lived before, people who "live in the window," as Erickson more eloquently describes it, and who have rediscovered a certain enigmatic and believed-to-be-unfinished film from the silent movie era, Adolphe Sarré's La Mort de Marat, possessing such unimaginable power that its very reel may serve as a metaphysical conduit -- a station itself -- between the ephemeral and eternal.  A person in possession of such a movie just might become immortal themselves!  Or maybe dead.

~~~

Check out the website for Days Between Stations, the art rock band, inspired by Steve Erickson's novel.  Thanks to Sircle 6s, Mardi, of Paris and Los Angeles, a man who has been through a "station" himself, so to speak, for alerting me to this band and their music.


2.02.2012

Survival of the Shittiest: Happy Birthday to Ayn Rand!





It's Ayn Rand's birthday today!  Don't boo, just woo hoo!  What would Ayn Rand do?

I'd like to thank one of Boston's finest men of letters, Sam, whose got a whale of a blog (insert canned laughter), The Treadle of the Loom**, that has been and is still presently dissecting in the most minute and erudite and fascinating detail, Herman Melville's masterpiece, Moby Dick, for alerting me this morning -- as it was not on my calendar -- that our dear Ayn Rand would've turned 112 today!

Happy Birthday, Ayn!!

And shame shame shame on all you nasty Ayn Rand haters out there who think she's nothing more than a heartless wench who couldn't write worth a lick and for then going all horrendously ad hominem on her in your vitriolic attacks saying something to the unconscionable effect that she's the most repugnant and masculine appearing of pompous, anti-feminine cheerleaders, rah-rah'ing for -- in so many redundant and didactic words otherwise known as "novels" --  the greedy, corporate, capitalist bastards pillaging the poor and weakening the middle class irreparably the world round; for thinking in your impoverished and demented heads that she'd read a book like William Gaddis' JR or see a movie like the original Wall Street and proclaim in response, "so what?", as if the raging satire went right over her head, as if the mighty wordsmith and cinematic slaying of capitalism and greed-gone-berserk that's depicted in both the book and film, via Wall Street hoodlums collectively strutting their junk bond Ponzi stuff without a qualm all over the trashed hopes and ruined dreams of the blue collar clientele they're supposedly there to service and protect, had gone swooooooosh past her skull (had not!); and for having the gall to assert, finally, that Ayn Rand would applaud the anti-heroes of JR and Wall Street and their egregious swindling, er, capitalism, rather than rightly shake her fist at them in outraged indignation like the rest of us -- like Gaddis and Oliver Stone did through their art.  Your unsound reasoning that hates Ayn Rand is so far outside the pale it makes my skin turn pale just contemplating it!  How dare you, Hater, belittle Ayn Rand and mock her on this of all glorious days -- her blessed birthday!  Just despicable, your measly rants compared to the majesty and superior philosophy and intellect of my favorite she-man, Ayn Rand.

Therefore, in Ayn Rand's honor on this Holy of Holiest of Objectivist Days, here's an old "review" of mine (see the link below) on Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's greatest achievement.  In fact, her novel is one of the crowning achievements in recorded History.  I resubmit the review in Ayn Randian homage: as a veritable rear window sticker on a car memorializing her life, perhaps a rear window sticker on a Hummer, a vehicle Rand would have no doubt driven were one of her magnificent trains unavailable and had she remained alive, of course, for the Hummer's arrival in the marketplace, a supreme automotive emblem of all that's large and beautifully bloated and rectilinearly monstrous in the world of transportation and commerce that Ayn ever unctuously marketed ... in loving memory of Ayn Rand's far too few years of existence on Earth ....

Review of Atlas Shrugged

**In all seriousness, check out Sam's brilliant blog. Any student of Melville and Moby Dick will learn loads reading The Treadle of the Loom.