Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Richard Brautigan on one shoulder and Harlan Ellison on the other

Being a hermit is fine if you're in an ice cave on a mountain thinking great thoughts or something. I'm just hermity because I hurt all the time. I'm actually tired of vicodin, and let me tell you how much I thought that day would never come.

I just finished reading The Tokyo-Montana Express, by Brautigan, which is one of the saddest books ever. Sure, it's quirky and charming and funny and delightful, like he always is, but beneath all that is a profound and awful sorrow. You can take as given that all literature is about pain somehow, whether it's heartbreak, guilt, loneliness, despair, jealousy, ennui, indignation, loss, love - or any of the other permutations thereof. A good writer can take their personal angst, be it trivial or deep, and make it feel universal. I think that Brautigan and Harlan Ellison have the opposite gift, of starting with pain as a universal constant, and making that massive concept feel acutely personal. While Brautigan takes a gentle, bemused approach, as if to tell us that we're all in it together after all, every word a benediction, Ellison wants to scream at us about it, furious at the world and all of its horrors. Comparing the two, it seems as if Brautigan's path of compassion would be the Right Choice. He blew his head off, though, while Ellison is still kicking around making a magnificent ass of himself. So, should we instead choose rage?

I suppose context can't be ruled out; Brautigan lived in the Bay Area in the 70s and 80s, which would probably be a lot like spending your whole life living in the B dorm at Evergreen, surrounded by coke snorting trustifarians who give self-righteous speeches about whatever they heard on NPR that morning and blast terrible music and tell you to mellow out, man, before they drive off in their SUVs. Which would make blowing your head off look like a pretty good option.

I think about this a lot, because I really wish Richard Brautigan had stuck it out. I think this mostly because it's like he saw where our train was headed and decided to get off early, and we're all left here to ride it out. I wish compassion didn't always lose.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iain M Banks - Raging Scot in Space!


On the surface, Banks' fourth SF novel seems very similar to a certain Lucas/Spielberg silver screen blockbuster: a charming rougue-ish hero is pursued through exotic locales by dangerous fanatics, each engaged in a desperate search for a lost ancient powerful artifact. However, that is where the similarity ends. Banks is way too talented, creative and innovative to create just a mere cheap knockoff. Plus, he is definitely too dark and twisted compared to the watered-down pablum that George and Steven tend to serve up. This is fast and action-packed, but also intelligent and moody. If you want real adventure--this is it!

I'm not entirely sure when I originally wrote this review (slightly rewritten for posting here), but I do know that it has been way too long since I embarked on one of Mr. Banks' completely brilliant and totally different Space Operas. When I first discovered him back in the '90's, for whatever reason, I decided to read his SF books in the order they were published and take my time about it. Unlike many other SFF authors who just crank out book after mediocre book, Banks takes his sweet time and the results are well worth the wait. That and the fact that he alternates his writing between Science Fiction and "normal" Fiction (published under just Iain Banks, sans the 'M'), leaves a fan like me with a semi-limited supply of his works.

Anyway, I recently went on a trip to San Francisco and as is my usual wont, I grabbed a good mass market size paperback to bring with me on the plane. I decided to /finally/catch up with Mr. Banks and brought FEERSUM ENDJINN. Within the span of the first chapter, I quickly remembered why I love Iain M. Banks and wondered what the hell took me so long to read another one of his excellent books.

However, my blog review of FEERSUM ENDJINN will have to wait until another day. Must. Stay. On topic. Besides the fact that I wanted to gush about AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND, I also wanted to use this opportunity to announce the official opening of the Fantastic Planet Books online store! You can now peruse and browse our inventory and purchase books directly from us! The store website is pretty darn cool and one of the nice features is that we can highlight notable and recommended titles that we stock. Consider it the "staff picks" section of our virtual store! You may even see a great title by a certain talented Scotsman basking in the spotlight...

So while you're out wandering the wilds of the internet, be sure to stop by the Fantastic Planet Books Online Store and pay us a visit! We look forward to seeing you soon! And don't forget to visit our Fantastic Planet Books mothership as long as you're in the neighborhood.