Re: The Finale Programme, by Michael Moorcock

Starting in February, Titan Books is reissuing the Cornelius Quartet, as part of their ongoing and much appreciated reprint series of Michael Moorcock’s oeuvre. I got ahold of an ARC for the first book in the series, The Final Programme.

My wife had never seen Casablanca. This struck me as an injustice and so I dutifully sat her down, put int he dvd and teared up when they sang Le Marseilles to drown out the Nazis singing German drinking songs. before we even got to that iconic scene however, my wife in near exasperation exclaimed that she flt like she had seen this movie before, because so much of the dialogue, staging and characters had been referenced, quoted, and parodied in so many other movies and TV shows since 1941.

Reading The Final Programme should have been like that. And judging by the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, for some people it is.

But it’s a testament to Michael Moorcock’s skill as a writer that this book, written in 1965, first published in 1968 doesn’t feel dated. It has all the hallmarks of the early counterculture that it was a harbinger to, the blithe attitude towards sex and drug use, open homosexuality and bisexuality, the fierce social commentary and  everything else that should, by all rights, make this a screaming artifact of a bygone era. Instead, it’s a rich, fun wild ride, full of brain melting ideas, speeches about eternal recurrence and identity, tossed off like casual banter about the weather, and a sly nod and wink to the reader that yeah, this is all a lark, but a serious lark.

(It’s also possible that I have a soft spot for weirdo counterculture fiction form the 60s, as I’m also a big fan of Illuminatus! and Mumbo Jumbo).

What struck as someone who hasn’t read the Cornelius Quartet before (and not much Moorcock at all), is how influential this series really is. Jerry Cornelius is a direct forefather to Casanova Quinn, bent gender and all. I’m honestly surprised his initials aren’t JC, frankly.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, because it’s fabulous pop art kitsch of the highest order. I want there to be a long lost movie made of it, starring John Philip Law, in full on Danger: Diabolik mode. And telling it in spare synopsis form would make it sound even more ridiculous than summaries usually do.

There’s plenty to be had in the Final Programme, for Moorcock enthusiasts, the references to other works about the Eternal Champion’s exploits. But even if you don’t know about the cosmic battle that [lays out, a hundred time sin different guises and permutations over the course of dozens of the author’s novels, there is still a lot of fun to be had. And really, that’s the adjective that best sums up this book: Michael Moorcock clearly had a blast writing it and now, it’s back for you and I to have fun reading it again, for the first time.

Kudos to Titan Books for bringing out these new editions of fantasy and sci-fi classics by a genuine master of the craft. ( I hope they do The Dancer at the End of Time series next, as that one is a personal favorite).

Special thanks to Chris Young.

Gambling With The Future

A few days ago I was on Twitter discussing this terrible headline about AI and libertarianism (it’s from John Stossel so yeah, don’t even bother). This apparently attracted the attention of Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist author and philosopher, who started following me on Twitter. I followed back and he sent me a link to a free download of his book, The Transhumanist Wager. So I read it. Or tried to anyway.

The problems with The Transhumanist Wager begin with its turgid prose, but they don’t end there.[1] For the unenlightened, Transhumanism is the school of thought that at some near future date, technology will enable humans to achieve a kind of immortality, either by cloning, uploading our minds onto the Internet, or just putting our heads in jars. What sets Transhumanists apart from the science fiction writers who invented these tropes, is that Transhumanists think this is a dandy proposition and we should do everything within our power to make sure that this happens, up to and including bending or breaking a few inconvenient laws.[2] Istvan is a merry proponent of the bending of these laws and moral codes associated with them, on the grounds that well heck, someone is going to do it anyway and the benefits will be pretty cool, so why not?

Because as history has demonstrated time and agin, the primary beneficiaries of technological advances are the 1%. The wealthy elites would get the mind-uploading tech and the customized meat avatars while the rest of us would be left to rot in squaller, if we’re lucky. The unlucky ones would or be press-ganged into becoming indentured code servants for the wealthy. Yes, we’d all get to go live in the Matrix! As some douchebag’s slave, or part of the infrastructure. Instead of being a taxi driver, you’d get to be their car. Or their customized centaur steed. Forever.

Of course Transhumansits claim it will not be so. That ethical progress and libertarian values will prevent this sort of exploitive power play, which as usual, ignores all of human history and seems to apply only to the sort of perfectly spherical humans that exist in these thought exercises. The problem is that true libertarianism can only be attained by a better, more perfect form of human. And they don’t exist. They are is imaginary as the perfected, incorruptible, immortal souls of medieval Catholic theology.

Which is what all this striving for immaculate digital perfection really is, warmed over Christian escapism.[3] Why worry about fixing the world’s problems when we can go hide in the Matrix?

So now my Twitter feed is full of libertarian futurists and their blinkered self-promotion and congratulatory ramblings, all in service of feeding me to the Machine so that the Koch Brothers and Rand Paul can can become immortals. Thanks but no thanks.

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1. All self-described philosophers have a tragic prose style, as if they are trying to sound as “smart” as their ideas and instead, end up sounding like Wittgenstein with a mouthful of marbles.

2. Human cloning has been outlawed in most countries, and by the UN. The sort of experimentation that would be required to create the mind-machine interface technology to allow for mind uploading isn’t illegal because it doesn’t exist, but if it did, would be illegal as it would violate all known guidelines for ethical practices in research.

3. That, mixed with the standard libertarian dream of having middle class vices legalized in order to enjoy them without the guilt of moral transgression.

Today’s Paranoia is Tomorrow’s Future

Eight months ago when I started on the current novel-in-progress,[1] I thought I was going to have to do some heavy lifting to explain how an AI could be birthed from Google Labs, and how a secretive government agency could get away with having a massive panopticon that allowed them backdoor access to mobile phones and CCTV.

Now? Not so much.

In between the time it took me to imagine those scenes and actually write them, they have gone from science fiction to mundane fact. I no longer have to explain how the Spook Show can track our heroes, because it’s a punch line on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This is kinda weird, to say the least.

We’re used to the idea of science fiction having some sort of prognostication value, however inaccurate[2] but this is just silly. Good thing my novel still has parallel universes, ray guns and biomechanical plant people from the distant future to keep things good and weird, else I’d end up writing literary romance novels.

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1. This iteration of the novel anyway. 8 months ago I tossed out two thirds of the novel, replotted and basically started over, salvaging a handful of key scenes. Essentially, it’s a new novel with some of the same characters and ideas, just completely redone and with a different tone and ending. Shit happens.

2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea  famously predicted nuclear submarines a century before they were a reality, while Nuromancer is widely considered to have predicted the Internet, it missed out on the omnipresence of mobile phones, though Albert Robida actually got that one right, in aweird way.

Publishing News, etc.

The blog has been quite for the last month and for this I apologize. Despite not doing NaNoWriMo, I have been doing quite a bit of writing on the novel-in-progress (110,000 words to date), looking for a day job to pay the bills and getting ready to become a dad. (Babies are a lot of work, who knew?)

Check out the books pages (linked above on the header menu) an you’ll find that my novella, The Lives of Perfect Creatures is now available on the Nook, Kobo and Kindle ans well as in print. That’s been no small amount of work, either, even if half of it was just waiting for the terms of my KDP select contract to expire.

I originally submitted the novella to Kindle Select, in the hopes that it would get picked up as a Kindle Single, which would have meant promotion and quite a few sales. that didn’t happen and I was stuck for 3 months, unable to publish the book on another platform until the window of exclusivity expired. That now has. I wasn’t all that thrilled with my experience with KDP. It wasn’t bad, but it really doesn’t offer anything of added value above the standard Kindle publishing experience, unless you get into the Kindle Singles program, and that’s pretty much like winning the lottery. So I won’t be  doing that again and I’m hardly the only author who feels this way. Anyway, I’m not going to go on at length about this. Let’s call it an experiment, with lessons learned.

From here on out, all books will appear simultaneously on multiple platforms and in print, which will make it easier for readers to find the books and download them in the formats they want.

The novel-in-progress is coming along and as I move into the final third of the manuscript, I’m starting to think of ways to promote the book when it’s published (tentatively, May 2013). As I have (checks pockets) $0.00 in the marketing budget, this means I’ll be doing creative things, like shouting about the book on twitter and publishing a preview of the book for free. So, Sometime in March or April, look for the first 3 chapters of Cloudhunter to appear in virtual bookstores everywhere.

Alright, back to the word mines.

 

Lessons Learned

So, instead of writing today, I spent all day reformatting and republishing my novella, The Lives of Perfect Creatures. Apparently, when I initially uploaded the files to Amazon, there was some sort of glitch that peppered the text liberally with typos and weird characters. The persons responsible have been sacked, and further formatting duties will be overseen by Ralph the Wonder Llama.

The problem seems  to stem from the fact that while you can make a Kindle ebook by uploading a Word .doc, you shouldn’t, because it runs your prose through a wood chipper first. A Microsoft product doesn’t work properly? Who knew, right?

Which is why today was spent uploading the text back into Scrivener and fiddling with the settings until I could output an .epub file that didn’t look like shit. The upside is, 1) I now know how to format an ebook directly from Scrivener, which will come in handy for future projects, and 2) I now have an .epub edition of my novella ready to go for when the exclusivity window on Amazon expires, and I can push it out to the Nook, iBookstore and Kobo platforms.

What I’m Reading

Not the cover of the edition I read, but a striking cover anyway.Last week, I was floundering. I had just finished rereading The Hobbit, which is such a magnificent, sweet, fun adventure tale that it needed something comparable to ease me back to down to the mortal world of books that are still entertaining, even if they don’t shatter your world and rebuild it anew. It didn’t help that the new trailer for the Hobbit movie hit the day before I finished reading the book. After that, how can you go back to reading anything less epic?

Eventually, I settled on Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre. My first impulse is to say it’s like Tolkien for adults, but that’s not true, as the two authors have next to nothing in common, other than that they are both British and both amazing authors.

John Le Carre doesn’t write fantasy, he writes gritty, spy stories of the stale beer variety. No gadgets and snappy one liners. No fancy tuxedos or alluring but dangerous women who end up int he heroes bed anyway. Nothing is shaken instead of stirred. These are thrillers with a minimalist tone, a real politik eye, and a sense of beautifully tragic nobility. And they are amazing.

Le Carre’s prose is diamond sharp. He somehow manages to be evocative and imbue color and character with just a simple turn of phrase or prosaic description. I don’t know how he does it. There’s not a single extra word anywhere, and yet he evokes an entire world in the way a character enters the room, or plays a tennis match. It’s brilliant, and as a writer, gives me something to aspire to.

And his plots are fantastic little clockworks that effortlessly fall into place, making perfect sense, even as scenes move back and forth in time and place and montage together like a prose film playing in your mind.

The thing is, I’ve now read a selection of Le Carre from across his oeuvre, spanning 20 books and 45 years. And the prose is as clear and precise in Our Kind of Traitor, which came out in 2010, as it is in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1966). That sort of consistant craft is soemthing for any author to aspire to.

One More Shade of Grey, Just For Good Measure

For anyone who thought I was being harsh about Fifty Shades of Grey, here’s a review by Katrina Lumsden, who completely destroys any notion that it is in any way feminist:

Now I’ll be totally honest, the biggest issue I have with Fifty Shades of Shit is neither the sex nor the horrible writing. It’s the plot. Thin as it is, it’s still there. And its basic message is that, given enough time, you can change someone. While I don’t have any problem with this if all you’re trying to do is help them to lose weight or quit smoking, when you’re talking about an emotionally and (dangerously close to) physically abusive relationship, sending that kind of message is both ridiculous and irresponsible. Christian is controlling, possessive, condescending, and cruel. He doesn’t allow Ana to behave as she normally would, and Ana just puts up with it, insistent that if she can just give him what he wants, when he wants, as often as he wants, she can eventually begin to pull his strings. Will it work? In the books, probably. In real life? No. Almost never. How many idiotic, spineless, weak women are going to waste their lives on some emotionally retarded prick because they’ve read shit like this and think this kind of fucked-up fairytale will come true for them? I know I’m not over-reacting because I’ve known women with this mentality. “Oh, he’s so dark and dangerous and threatening, but he’s got a sad, lonely side, and if I could just figure out what’s wrong, I could change him!”

Well said.

Fifty Shades of Perspective

Over at the New Statesmen, Laurie Penny writes in defense of Fifty Shades of Grey, and gets it all wrong:

When you get down to it, the problem most people seem to have with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s for girls. Even worse – it’s “mommy porn”, porn for mommies, for older women to read and get excited about, and that dangerous nonsense really needs to be stopped right now. Everyone knows that the only women who are allowed to actually have sexuality are slender, high-breasted twenty-one year old virgins – rather like, it has to be said, the heroine of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

My problem with Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t that it’s “Badly written,” which Laurie Penny claims is just code for “popular with women.” My problem with the book is that it’s actually badly written. The prose is bland. The characters are sketchy. The plot is a hackneyed hash of cliches and recycled tropes the author doesn’t understand, just apes because that is what the manual on how to write a story told her needed to happen in Act 3. And to defend it’s popularity on feminist grounds, because it’s a vehicle for discussing women’s sexuality and porn in public, is sophomore feminism at it’s worst.

Almost as absurd is the claim that it’s porn, and so shouldn’t be judged on its literary merits, but it’s erotic value. I’ve read letters to Penthouse that were better written and had more evocative prose than Fifty Shades of Grey. It fails as both a novel and as erotica!

The only only reason the book is popular is because of a secondary social effect: it allows timid, mainstream readers to feel transgressive. The same house fraus who feel a rush reading this watered down tripe, wouldn’t be caught dead reading The Story of O or Venus in Furs, because those books make the reader relate to people who have real kinks, and not because they are damaged, and in need of some virgin redeemer to teach them how to love. It’s because those characters find fulfillment in their kinky, sweaty, dark and forbidden lusts. And they make the reader feel as if they might as well. That’s the thrill of reading erotica. The thrill Fifty Shades of Grey fails to provide in any way.

Link via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.

The World of the Angrazi Raj

The Peshawar LancersThe Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Starting with an intriguing alternate history premise (a comet impact in the 19th century instigates the British empire to relocate to the Raj. By 2030, this Indian-English empire is the seat of world power) Sterling has created a fascinating commentary on culture and assimilation, both how invading cultures assimilate the locals and vice versa.

But all of that is subtext. The real meat of the story is an old fashioned swashbuckling adventure tale, with able swordsmen, ruthless villains, cutthroats, camels and zeppelins. What more could you ask for?

View all my reviews