In 1935, Fantasy magazine contracted five of the most popular pulp magazine authors to write a round-robin style story, with each contributing a page or two before passing it on to the next author. On The Cultural Gutter, The Challenge of the Challenge from Beyond looks at how these five accomplished professionals created something about as good as a fourth grade class undertaking the same assignment. And while C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, and Frank Belknap Long are along for the ride, the main show here is the hilarious philosophical clash that comes when H.P. Lovecraft’s section is continued by his friend, Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard.
He was young, handsome, popular with the ladies, and knew how to dress. And just like that, he vanished. It was such an abrupt and, at least to those who did not know Adam Diment, unexpected departure from the public eye that many assumed he had been murdered, or committed suicide, or perhaps been spirited away in the night to a quirky village full of people who knew too much and needed to spend time wearing cardigan sweaters and running down the beach away from giant balloons. The reality, as it so often is, of Diment’s jarring disappearance was rather more mundane that some of the wild conspiracy theories that popped up in the wake of his stepping away from the limelight. He left behind a literary legacy of only four relatively short novels, almost entirely forgotten today but, in their time — the time of London during the Swingin’ Sixties — much beloved, as was their author. Adam Diment, a shaggy-haired, dope-smoking, free-love cat who decided one day to set about writing the counter-culture equivalent of James Bond.
This month on The Cultural Gutter, I’m tackling Ann Leckie’s Hugo Award winning space opera Ancillary Justice. That’s What She Said examines the awesome sleight-of-hand Leckie pulls by writing a pretty straight-forward, old-fashioned space opera with one tweak: deciding to use “she” as the default pronoun for all characters instead of “he.” The result is a story that confuses, then defuses, gender without being aggressive about it, proving along the way that good space adventures are good space adventures…even when you think some of the characters are women!
EDITOR’S NOTE: As a follow-up to High Adventure and Strange Characters, I asked Carol Borden of The Cultural Gutter to write a similar article covering twelve books she counts among her favorites and most personally influential.
So the authorities of Teleport City asked me to write about twelve books that I love. It turns out that not only am I terrible at listing favorites, I am kind of terrible at following directions. I started with twelve books I loved and then it turned into twelve books by authors I love. Then, the next thing I know, I’m culling some of them because I sense a growing indefinable theme, a theme of frequently harrowing books of varying reputability and often sinister dealings. I blame all the film noir I’ve been watching lately. These books have a wide range of sensibility and style, but I am very fond of them all.
Last month on The Cultural Gutter, I wrote about Nalo Hopikinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring the importance of diverse voices and experiences in science fiction. Following that thread, this month I’m looking at one of the grand ladies of science fiction, Octavia Butler, and the first book in her “Xenogenesis” series, Dawn. Understanding the Aliens explores Butler’s ability to tap into a truly visceral body horror and create a believably frightening, awkward “first contact” situation between humans and aliens. Special guest appearances by The Mote in God’s Eye and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.
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.
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.
If you happen to follow Teleport City on Facebook, you might have seen passing mention of a book we’ve been writing. No, not Bond Vivant — that is still happening and will be ready in 2015, but it is moving slow thanks to the amount of research being done (mostly at bars). I’m talking about At the Matinee of Madness. What? You haven’t heard? Then let me tell you the tale…after more abortive attempts and rejection letters than I can count, Teleport City is publishing a book.