I read an advance copy of Lavie Tidhar’s UNHOLY LAND last week. It’s one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.
It begins with a minor pulp detective-fiction writer leaving his home in Berlin to revisit the land of his birth – a Jewish state in Africa. Right away, we’re in alternate-history space — this was actually a floated idea around 1900, the British Uganda Program, also referred to as the Uganda Scheme, in the wake of Russian pogroms against the Jewish people. So far, an African take on THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION.
But. The writer’s name is Lior Tirosh. Compare that to Lavie Tidhar. Partway through, Tidhar ascribes the authorship of one of his own books to Tirosh. OSAMA. An alternate-history novel featuring a detective and a series of pulp novels. One detects the wake of the grand galleon of Michael Moorcock sailing by on the way to Tanelorn. Tidhar, as most recently evidenced by CENTRAL STATION, is a game-player of a writer who uses the spectrum of science fiction canon for his pieces.
And then the book turns into what it’s really about, a grand game of alternate worlds cast like jewels on the sand. The long second act is all dust and blood and madness and glory, and the fast third act comes down on you like a sharpened spade.
Lavie Tidhar is a clever bastard, and this book is a box of little miracles. I liked it.
More details here. It’s out Sept/Oct.
UNHOLY LAND, Lavie Tidhar (UK) (US)
My Daddy’s hands were like burnt maps. He said if we wanted to learn how to conquer the world, all we needed to do was look at his hands.
CROOKED GOD MACHINE by Autumn Christian is a mesmerising, monstrous nightmare of a novel. There’s David Lynch in there, and Cormac McCarthy, and Southern Gothic, and modernist narrative forms, and folklore and half a dozen other things that are all the novelist. I’m just trying to put some handles on it for you. It is horrific and unrelenting and dreamlike and beautiful. I found it weirdly hard to put down. Like it didn’t want to let go. Like it wanted to make me keep looking.
It’s the story of Charles, who is living through the very slow end of the world, living in a small house in a small town that is always dying but never quite dead yet. It’s the story of growing up during the end of the world. Normalising the most awful things.
There are almost clues to what happened. But they’re scattered by dream logic, and the lyrical horror of transapocalyptic life, where God shrieks at you through the television, a Jenny Greenteeth-like monster called Jolene eats bones in the creek at the end of your garden, people go to sleep for ten years with spiders in their heads and the hell shuttles are always on their way to collect you.
For some of you, there’s a bunch of things in there that are going to feel disturbingly close to home. It is not a comfortable read for anyone. But it compelled me. It’s young, raw work, but it is fierce and furious and knows what it’s about. I admired it a great deal.
CROOKED GOD MACHINE, Autumn Christian (UK) (US)
Sometimes — and I suspect it’s usually a sign something is wrong in the work, that my brain is thrashing around looking for new things to grab hold of — but sometimes, I think about being online more. In that Extremely Online way of multiple daily blogging. I look at clever new microblogging systems like Blot, which is really very smartly built indeed, or remember with guilt that I still have an unused instance at the marvellous Ghost system, and I think, well, maybe I could do something this time…
It is, as I say, a warning shot from the back of my head. Something’s wrong and I need to look at what I’m working on again. It’s the subconscious leaving clues that something is broken. You have to learn to recognise these things before they trip you up.
I have decided to blame Georgina Voss for saying she wanted “an alternative internet.” That clause sent my stupid brain to a number of places it should not loiter in.
So I shall go to the place where they fill these glasses with wine, as medicine.
Re-reading: CANNIBAL METAPHYSICS, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (UK) (US)
Georges Simenon used to write a novel in eight days, producing between six thousand and eight thousand words a day. He’d start at dawn each day and be done by 10.30am, drenched in sweat. In his younger days, it’s said, he’d throw up after completing his shift. One of my favourite stories about Michael Moorcock is that he’d start a book on a Monday when the bill from Harrods came in and deliver the novel on Friday to get the cheque to pay it.
I cannot imagine what these things are like. I’m a 500-word-a-day novelist. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too late to try it: whether it’d kill me, whether I’d dry up halfway through. Whether it would even be worth it. These things stand like megalithic stones in the landscape of a writer. I know I’m working in their shadows. But I also tell myself: what muscles do you tear and what do you lose when you try it?
Simenon owned wolves. But he had to give them to a zoo after they ate the cat.
Recently read: CROOKED GOD MACHINE, Autumn Christian (UK) (US)
One of my favourite Samuel Beckett pieces is ALL THAT FALL, and, in search of a memory-refresher on a detail of the piece, I found this thing that I don’t think I knew before:
Since the journey of the main character is presented psychologically, Beckett asked for natural sounds to be adapted in unnatural ways. “New methods,” Martin Esslin writes, “had to be found to extract the various sounds needed (both animal and mechanical – footsteps, cars, bicycle wheels, the train, the cart) from the simple naturalism of the hundreds of records in the BBC’s effects library. Desmond Briscoe [sound technician] (and his gramophone operator, Norman Baines) had to invent ways and means to remove these sounds from the purely realistic sphere. They did so by treating them electronically: slowing down, speeding up, adding echo, fragmenting them by cutting them into segments, and putting them together in new way.”Actors produced the sounds of all the animals but “Beckett was actually unimpressed by the use of human voices for the rural sounds when he listened into the … broadcast.”
“These experiments, and the discoveries made as they evolved, led directly to the establishment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Beckett and All That Fall thus directly contributed to one of the most important technical advances in the art of radio (and the technique, and indeed technology, of radio in Britain).”
Also in Briscoe’s Guardian obit:
The pioneering sound engineer Desmond Briscoe, who has died aged 81, was among the first in Britain to realise the potential of electronic music in the 1950s, initially through composition and eventually as manager of the BBC’s electronic music studio, the Radiophonic Workshop, from 1960 to 1984.
His breakthrough commission – the success of which ultimately led to the creation of the studio – was Samuel Beckett’s first radio play, All That Fall (1957). Realising Beckett’s wish for a new kind of “pure radio” – one that blended dialogue, music and sound effect – Briscoe used the Parisian techniques of musique concrète (music made by editing together and manipulating bits of prerecorded magnetic tape) to create sounds previously unheard on British radio, thus bringing to public attention the potential for electronic tape effects in drama.
I kind of love the notion that the sainted BBC Radiophonic Workshop is all Samuel Beckett’s fault.
I’ve never really had to travel constantly for my job. But there have been times. God, there have been times. There are those years, those moments, when you wake up at 4am in a strange hotel room in a strange city, and you’re coming up on one hundred thousand miles on the flight trail, and you look at the clock and think what the hell am I doing? And that’s me saying that, a neurotypical log of low emotional content and dead nerves. What the hell am I doing? Does this stop? Can it stop?
And in the morning you’re back in another car, on the way to another airport, knowing it’s three more continents before dinner, looking at the clock, and it keeps on ticking, and you keep on moving, and you try to relax back into the ticking and keep moving into the future.
If you can still hear yourself over the tick of the clock, you’re lucky. Hold on tight til the sun comes up.
READING: THE FICTION, Curt Pires & David Rubin with Michael Garland (UK) (US)
I saw Kate Devlin tweet that How The Light Gets In 2018 destroyed her. I know the feeling but I wish I had time to be destroyed. Got home late Tuesday, after that goddamn thunderstorm followed me into London while I was in for two meetings, and then stalked me all the way back to Southend. I am heading out again in a couple of days, unusually for me, and fully expect it to trail me back into London.
How The Light Gets In festival was unusual, too. For me, it’s not normally that incredibly social. Sunday was a joy, drinking with Kate, Mic Wright, Kristen Sollee and Roxana Shirazi (and Tess Gruenberg, earlier). I’m not sure any of the panels I did were especially enlightening for anyone, although I certainly learned things from the likes of the formidable Margaret Boden, But, for the first time, I just had an incredibly fun and relaxed day full of laughter and stories. It may not have been productive in any real sense, but, damn, I’d missed the experience of friends.
And now I’m back to the processing and the sending and the writing. That should hold me for a year. Here we go again.
READING: THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE SAINTS, Jeet Thayil (UK) (US)
Made it into London after far too many trains out of darkest Wales, only to run back into the thunderstorm I left behind. Damp superheated London is not a thing I would invite you to experience. And suddenly Bank Holiday Mondays are a thing where people close shops and bars and restaurants again? When did that happen? Thankfully, when I made it back West to find Molly, there was a basic British boozer open, and we drank all their whisky until very late. Strange to think she’s one of my oldest friends now, as well as one of the best.
And now, for my sins, to Carnaby Street. And then home to the Thames Delta. Where I’ve just been told the thunderstorm awaits me. I remain the bringer of rain, no matter where I go.
I am in Hay. The rain is hammering down. I am in the green room yurt, which is filled to the gills with damp philosophers. I am still alive. This may not last. Last night I watched lightning scratch across the sky over the town. I may have to build a boat.
By the time you read this, I’ll be on one of the three trains I have to take to get to Hay-on-Wye, in order to make my third appearance at the How The Light Gets In philosophy festival there. You may ask, how far has Western society fallen, that I would not only be invited to speak at a philosophy festival, but invited back, more than once? Oh, yeah, we are all beyond screwed.
(As is the British rail system – this used to be a two-train journey.)
I am, in fact, in no shape to do this trip. My arse has been in this chair in front of this laptop since Jan 2 and I’ve had maybe three days off since then. Dragging my arse through this country’s broken train system to uncertain accomodation in a flood-prone area on a forecast stormy weekend is not quite what I needed. Still, I can feel several people giving me a hard stare for being a miserable hermit, so let’s give it a go. And if I die in a river on the edge of civilisation it’s your fault. Yes, you.
I’m packing my FIRE HD 8 tablet (UK) (US) because I need to rewatch some work by a director before I get lunch with him on Tuesday. (Hi!) It’s actually a great little portable video device. That and the Kindle Paperwhite are all the tech I’m taking.