The third issue of Materiality: PRECIOUS is available now from the Pinknantucket Press!
Along with many other good things, it includes my story “The Faithful Alchemist”, set in the fabled and impeccably pretentious city of Louchébem.
In honour of the occasion, I’ve added an index to those fragments of the Louchébem corpus which have already appeared in these pages.
Prompted by reading Alison Croggon’s entertaining review of his awful-sounding River of Fundament, I remembered that in 2004 I’d seen the whole of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle in a screening at the AGNSW and wrote up a handy bluffer’s guide. The old staff homepage server it lived on is long gone, but I found a copy on the Wayback Machine, so here it is again:
The Cremaster Cycle Cheat Sheet
J. R. R. Tolkien
It must be twenty years since I last read this — one of my daughters is in the throes of Tolkien adolescent nerddom, which means I have someone to share ridiculously dorky puns with*, and I read her copy down the coast when I’d run out of books. When I was in Oxford a few years ago I saw an exhibition of 14th century hand-lettered Italian books in the Bodleian library, and the origins of Tolkien’s own invented scripts were clearly visible in their elegant red and black uncials. Similarly, now that I know something of the ancient texts and languages which constituted Tolkien’s day job, The Silmarillion seems less weird than it did to my teenage self, and more an impressive exercise in pastiche. That isn’t intended as a criticism: my taste in fantasy inclines to works which read like texts from the worlds in which they are set, or scholarly redactions of old tales, as in James Branch Cabell’s mock-medieval romances or the classicism of Borges’ “The Immortals”.
George R. R. Martin doesn’t really attempt this – his writing is all incident and plot with a sprinkling of ye olde terminologie like synthetic bacon-bits. In my youth I was prone to diss Tolkien’s style, bit in The Lord of the Rings he shifts between different registers, from cosy to epic, with unusual skill.
*”Tickle-me Ulmo”. Sorry.
Smiths fans will get a lot out of this, although I can’t recommend it for binge-reading on a summer holiday: it left me feeling like I’d eaten two boxes of gin chocolate liqueurs at a sitting. The first half is the best, with plenty of grindingly sour details of his childhood in Manchester and enough enthusiasm about bands I really should get around to investigating to keep me busy for the rest of the year. The Smiths’ career whips by in a flash and we descend into the grim second half: special pleading, recriminations against the press (deserved) and his band(s) (who knows?), culminating in an agonising account of the court case brought by Rourke and Joyce for royalties, which had me wishing that M had divided his book into chapters so that I could skip it.
Although this book killed what little affection I had left for the UK music press (yeah, I know) it’s awkward for Morrissey to complain about being accused of racism and then refer to a disaffected former session musician and songwriting partner’s Hollywood lawyers as “Hebrews”.
It’s uneven and has too many puns on his song titles, but it’s hard to think of any of his contemporaries who could write 450-odd pages even remotely as enjoyable. (I still haven’t got around to Mark E Smith’s book.)
Samuel R Delany
One of the backlog of Delany novels I’d bought about a year ago after reading The Motion of Light in Water and Dhalgren. It’s amazing: a vision of galactic civilisation in which human society has split into clades, philosophically if not biologically incompatible. It feels like a lost foundation text (1986) of Ken MacLeod’s post-Collapse anarchist societies or Banks’ Culture, but has a broader scope than either of these: Delany’s focus is much more on culture and politics than on technology. His depiction of GI – General Information, basically a wireless implant-mediated version of Google – is remarkable.
It plays more interesting and jarring games with gendered language than any novel I’ve read since Brigid Brophy’s In Transit. It won’t please readers who like their plots all neatly resolved, especially since it’s the first novel in a diptych, the second part of which won’t be published, but it’s much less perplexing than Dhalgren. I found it emotionally satisfying, and the reasons for Delany’s not completing it, which I didn’t try to find out until after I’d read Stars, seem to be to be justified (and heartbreaking). I’d recommend not trying to find out before reading the first part.
Those that belong to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Those that are trained
Mermaids (or Widows)
Those that are included in this classification
Those that tremble as if they were always angry
Those drawn by Jack Kirby
Those that have just broken the Tesseract
Those that, at a distance, resemble ants. Or wasps.