When journalist and former British Naval Intelligence commander Ian Fleming retired to his modest villa, Goldeneye (“Goldeneye, nose and throat” quipped his neighbor, the entertainer Noel Coward, who was as unimpressed with Fleming’s abode as he was with the fare served to him when he visited) in Jamaica to write his first novel, he didn’t expect it to be much more to society at large than a passing trifle. It was an attempt to make good on a desire that boiled up in him during his wartime service, perhaps as a way to try and one-up his popular brother, Peter, who was a well-known much beloved adventurer, war hero, and writer. It was also an attempt to keep himself occupied, his mind off his own anxiety regarding the one-time swinging bachelor’s impending marriage to his on-again, off-again girlfriend of many years, Ann Charteris.
When last we saw James Bond, in 1984’s Role of Honour, we did not part on good terms. It was an awful book in my opinion, with clumsy romance and a tremendously dull plot full of James Bond flipping through manuals about the COBOL programming language before finally ending in an idiotic blimp finale, the culmination of a plot that could have easily been foiled a dozen times before it ever got off the ground. That aspect of the storytelling — a central plot that could easily been defeated with minimal risk in the early chapters of the book but is allowed to continue because “foiling it now is exactly what they’d expect us to do!” — will typify the next couple 007 adventures, although for the most part, they are more enjoyably dumb than tediously dumb.
Over on The Cultural Gutter, I’m writing about Nalo Hopkinson’s dystopian science fiction novel Brown Girl in the Ring. A Relative Dystopia is a look at how our culture, upbringing, and personal experiences can shape what we define as a dystopian future, and how people of a different race can look at the exact same thing at the exact same time and take away very different impressions.
A Dozen Books that Made Me Who I Am, for Better or for Worse
They say if you want to write well, you need to be well-read, and while I may be deficient on a pile of classics and must-reads so vast that it seems hopeless to ever tackle it, I do try to do my homework, especially when it comes to the style of writing I’ve elected as my primary mode of creative expression: non-fiction. Specifically, journalism, dispatches, and accounts. In an effort to spread the good word and sell the books of a bunch of dead people (and a few live ones), I’ve compiled a woefully uncomprehensive list of a dozen of my favorite collections of literary journalism from a dozen writers I count as my favorite and most influential. Dozens more are lined up behind them, so I reckon this is just the first of what will potentially be several installments.
Over at The Alcohol Professor, I talked to Josh Hatton from Single Cask Nation and the Jewish Whiskey Company about their recent bottling of “light whiskey” from Indiana’s Lawrenceburg Distilling. What is light whiskey? How did LDI find itself at the center of all this controversy about fake distilleries and craft whiskey? Oh, It’s that Whiskey from Indiana strives to make sense of it all.
April at The Cultural Gutter is the month we take a break from our usual beat (mine is science fiction) and write about something else. So I wrote about The Search for Weng Weng and how passion for film (or any creative art) can lead to real-life fun and adventure.
“In the early spring of 2002, a trip out west to meet some friends resulted in a weekend that involved everything from drinking in Juarez to being hired to do design work for a network of Texas dominatrixes to hanging out with ukulele-playing cowpunk ladies from Tokyo and, finally, ended with a bizarre and hazily remembered quest to find the locations used in Manos: The Hands of Fate with the only guideposts being that they were ‘somewhere around El Paso’…”
With a few exceptions scattered throughout the past hundred years or so of feature filmmaking, the French never really embraced the horror film. Instead, drawing from a literary tradition capped by the writing of Gaston Leroux and Victor Hugo, the French response to what we in the United States (and Britain, and Italy, and Japan, and…well, most of the world) define as horror was cinema fantastique. Certainly it had elements of horror, sometimes more overt than others, but more traditionally recognizable characteristics of horror were mixed into a dreamy mist that also included romance, science fiction, mystery, and melodrama all spun with a disregard for logical narrative structure and progression in favor of a dreamlike (or nightmare) quality. It did not matter if one scene connected to the next, or if there was a rational explanation for a particular image or action. That was not the point. The language of cinema is vast, figured directors working within this nebulous genre of cinema fantastique, and the idea that film has to conform to a particular structure or style or storytelling — or that it need tell any story at all — is tragically limiting. Of the many films that make up the body of cinema fantastique, few have developed an enduring reputation, good and bad, quite like Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage, aka Eyes without a Face.
I have a new one up on The Cultural Gutter! Yesterday’s Tomorrow: A Visit to Tativille is a look at one of my all-time favorite films, 1958’s futurist farce Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati. Tati’s third film, and the second to feature the iconic character of M. Hulot, Mon Oncle is a film built largely on the shoulders of the persistent delusion that technology, automation, and progress makes our lives better, more efficient, and more logical and that anything marketed in the name of technological progress is desirable.
Over on the Cultural Gutter, I’m writing about the musical science fiction spectacle Just Imagine. Vaudeville on Mars is a look at the similarities between the lavish 1930 Fox Studios production and the 1928 Soviet film Aelita, Queen of Mars; as well as a celebration of the outrageous costume and set design. All of which is really just a way of making myself feel better as I try to come to grips with the fact that human society at one time thought a movie this extravagant should be headlined by vaudeville funny man El Brendel.
Known amongst the literati and intelligentsia as “the world’s foremost authority on Haseena Atom Bomb,” Todd Stadtman has somehow found time between his site Die Danger Die Die Kill, Teleport City, his many appearances on the Podcast on Fire Network’s Taiwan Noir show, co-hosting the Pop Offensive internet radio show, and rescuing puppies from burning buildings to write a book. And not just write a book, but write a book being published by FAB Press, the gold standard publisher of books about global cult cinema. Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema is set to be released by FAB Press in March, 2015, but you can preorder a copy now.